Eating red meat significantly increases the risk of premature death from heart disease, diabetes and cancer, US scientists claim.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) studied the diets of more than 121,000 people for up to 28 years and found the deaths of 23,926 participants were linked to the regular consumption of red meat -- particularly processed red meat.

Professor Frank Hu, the study's lead author, said, "This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death."

He added, "On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality."

­­The HSPH researchers said that replacing red meat with a serving of nuts reduced the risk of dying by 19 percent, poultry and whole grains lowered the risk by 14 percent, while plant-based proteins and low-fat dairy products were associated with a 10 percent lower mortality risk.

The study was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.