Red meat and processed meat consumption are associated with “modest” increases in overall mortality and deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to National Institutes of Health researchers. This goes for both sexes.
Data are from the huge NIH-AARP Diet and Heart Study, a prospective cohort trial involving over 550,000 U.S. men and women aged 50-71 at the time of enrollment. Food consumption was determined by questionnaire. Over the course of 10 years’ follow-up, over 65,000 people died. Investigators looked to see if causes of death were related to meat consumption.
What do they mean by red meat, processed meat, and white meat?
Red meat: all types of beef and pork (wasn’t there a U.S. ad campaign calling pork “the other white meat”?}
White meat: chicken, turkey, fish
Processed meat: bacon, red meat sausage, poultry sausage, luncheon meats (red and white), cold cuts (red and white), ham, regular hotdogs, low-fat poultry hotdogs, etc.
What did they find?
See the first paragraph above.
Studies like this typically look at the folks who ate the very most of a given type of food, those who ate the very least, then compare differences in deaths between the two groups. That’s what they did here, too. For instance, the people who ate the very most red meat ate 63 grams per 1000 caories of food daily. Those who ate the least ate 10 grams per 1000 cal of food daily. That’s about a six-fold difference. Many folks eat 2000 calories a day. The high red meat eaters on 2000 cals a day would eat 123 grams, or 4.4 ounces of red meat. The low red meat eaters on 2000 cals/day ate 20 grams, or 0.7 ounces.
The heavy consumers of processed meats ate 23 grams per 1000 cal of food daily. The lowest consumers ate 1.6 grams per 1000 cal.
Comparing these two quintiles of high and low consumption of red and processed meats, overall mortality was 31-36% higher for the heavy red meat eaters, and 16-25% higher for the heavy processed meat eaters. (The higher numbers in the ranges are for women.) Similar numbers were found when looking at cancer deaths and cardiovascular deaths (heart attacks, strokes, ruptured aneurysms, etc).
It’s not proof that heavy consumption of red and processed meats is detrimental to longevity, but it’s suggestive. The “Discussion” section of the article reviews potential physiological mechanisms for premature death.
The researchers called these differences “modest.” I guess they use “modest” since most people eat somewhere between these extreme quintiles. The numbers incline me to stay out of that “highest red and processed meat consumer” category, and lean more towards white meat and fish.
Reference: Sinha, Rashmi, et al. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169 (2009): 562-571.