A regular hamburger or steak dinner may take years off your life, a new study suggests.
Participants in the study who ate red meat — particularly processed meat — on a regular basis were more likely to die over a 20- to 30-year period, compared with those who didn't consume red meat regularly.
The results also showed that substituting other healthy protein sources, such as fish, poultry, nuts or legumes, was associated with a lower risk of death over the study period.
The results held even after the researchers took into account factors that could affect a person's risk of dying, including age, physical activity and family history of heart disease or major cancers.
"Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat," study researcher An Pan, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said in a statement. Eating red meat has been linked with an increased risk of certain diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, but its effects on overall risk of death have been unclear.
The researchers analyzed data from 38,000 men, whose average age was 54 at the study's start, and 84,000 women, whose average age was 47. Every four years, participants answered questions about their diets, indicating how often they ate certain foods.
Over the 28-year study, nearly 24,000 people died. Of these, 5,900 deaths were due to cardiovascular disease, and 9,500 were from cancer.
One daily serving of unprocessed red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a 13 percent increased risk of death, and one daily serving of processed red meat (for example, one hot dog or two slices of bacon) was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of death.
Eating processed red meat was associated with a 21 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 16 percent increased risk of death from cancer.
Replacing one serving of red meat with one serving of a healthier protein source was associated with the following reductions in death risk: 7 percent for fish, 14 percent for poultry, 19 percent for nuts, 10 percent for legumes, 10 percent for low-fat dairy products, and 14 percent for whole grains.
The researchers estimated that 9.3 percent of deaths in men and 7.6 percent of deaths in women could have been prevented over the study period if all the participants had consumed less than 0.5 servings of red meat per day.
In a commentary accompanying the study, Dr. Dean Ornish, of the University of California, San Francisco, highlighted the environmental benefits of a diet lower in red meat. "What is good for you is good for our planet," Ornish said.
The study and commentary were published online on March 12 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
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