Eating red meat can cut your life expectancy, say scientists

They measured increases or decreases of red meat intake over the course of eight years, and then tracked health and death data for eight years after that.

Swapping red meat for whole grains, vegetables or protein foods such as poultry without skin, eggs and fish, was associated with a lower risk of death among both men and women.

However, reducing red meat intake while increasing healthy protein sources, such as eggs and fish, whole grains and vegetables over time may lower the risk, the researchers say.

The long-term study, which examined the dietary changes of over 53,500 women and nearly 30,000 men, shows that an increased intake of red meat is linked to a heightened risk of death. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology and chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was senior author of the study.

The researchers, from the U.S. and China, found that adding half a serve of red meat or more to your daily diet could increase your risk of death by 10 per cent.

Every four years the participants completed a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) where they were asked how often, on average, they ate each food of a standard portion size in the past year, ranging from "never or less than once per month" to "6 or more times a day".

After analyzing the diet and death data, the researchers found that within eight years, an increase of at least half a serving per day of processed and unprocessed red meat was associated with 13% and 9% higher risk of early death, respectively. The findings provide "a practical message to the general public of how dynamic changes in red meat consumption is associated with health", they conclude.

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"These discoveries propose that an adjustment in protein source or eating well plant-based nourishments, for example, vegetables or entire grains can improve life span". Heather Fields, an internal medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, who was not involved in the research.

"Keeping these findings in mind, we can now shift focus on which foods we can add to the diet to improve longevity and decrease risk of chronic diseases", she said.

The world is eating more meat. "This is where nutrition research gets exciting". Now granted, this was an observational study and thus, cause could not be explicitly established; as well, as the authors note, the the members of these two cohorts were mainly white registered health professionals so the findings may not be more widely applicable. This association with mortality was observed with increased consumption of processed and unprocessed meat, but was stronger for processed meat. More research is needed to determine a causal relationship. In the interim, eating an additional half serve (or more) of prepared red meats - bacon or salami - consistently may build their mortality hazard by 13 percent.

An analysis of more than 80,000 people over 8 years suggests what happens to one's risk of premature death when changing meat consumption.

He went on to question the concentration of hormones or antibiotics in red meat in the United States compared with other countries, such as Japan or those in Europe.

"Meat has for millions of years provided essential nutrients - protein, iron and zinc and vitamins - and people should think carefully before turning away from a product that has not only served humans well but played a significant part in their development".

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Changing your meat-eating habits could mean a longer life, study suggests".

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