Meat lovers, this news may change your grocery list: Eating both processed and unprocessed red meat is associated with an increased mortality risk, according to new research in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Swedish researchers studied 74,645 men and women to determine what link, if any, there was between red meat intake and a decrease in lifespan. First, participants answered a questionnaire about their eating habits, alcohol consumption, smoking, exercise, and other lifestyle indicators. Specifically, the red meat assessment was a 96-item food-frequency questionnaire that listed different types of red meat and asked how often participants ate them in the past year. Processed items included sausages, hot dogs, salami, and cold cuts, while unprocessed choices were along the lines of fresh and minced pork, beef, and veal. Researchers estimated differences in survival based on total red meat and combined levels of of processed and unprocessed red meat consumption, then conducted 15 years of follow-up to test their theories.
In those 15 years, researchers documented 16,683 deaths, which amounted to 20 percent of the study population. Compared with people who never ate red meat, those who ate around 300 grams per day (a little more than 10.5 ounces) of both processed and unprocessed red meat had an associated decrease in lifespan of up to two years. When it came specifically to processed meat, 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of it per day was associated with shorter survival of about nine months. High and moderate intake of unprocessed meat were only linked to shorter lifespans when those participants also ate a lot of processed meat. Basically: You should cut your processed meat way back.
So why the difference in the type of meat’s association with lifespan? "It is reasonable to assume that processed and nonprocessed meat might have different biological mechanisms, resulting in different effects on mortality," write the study authors. "Red meat is a rich source of zinc and dietary protein, which might be responsible for the positive effect of red meat consumption. On the other hand, meat processing involves different potentially adverse components that could counteract the positive effects of the beneficial nutrients in meat."
It makes sense, then, that "the consumption of nonprocessed meat alone was not associated with shorter survival," say the researchers. The drawbacks of unprocessed red meat are unclear and need more research.
With that in mind, now may be a good time to incorporate some meat substitutes into your diet. And even if you can't give up your meat habit altogether, do your best to avoid the processed kind. Organic is much less scary.