A new analysis of long-term data on almost 30,000 people found a small but significant risk of death from any cause related to eating two servings of processed meat or unprocessed red meat each week.
Similar risks were found for cardiovascular disease for those who eat two servings a week of processed meat, red meat or unprocessed chicken, although that last category could be due to frying or skin consumption, the researchers said.
The study found that there was no association to eat fish.
A serving of processed meat was equivalent to two slices of bacon, two small sausages or a hot dog. A serving of unprocessed red meat was equivalent to 4 ounces of red meat or poultry, or 3 ounces of fish.
The new findings come only months after a controversial meta-analysis that states that it is not necessary to reduce the intake of red and processed meat for good health.
“Everyone interpreted that it was okay to eat red meat, but I don’t think that’s what science supports,” said study lead author Norrina Allen, associate professor of preventive medicine at the University’s Feinberg School of Medicine Northwestern
“It’s a small difference, but it’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat such as pepperoni, mortadella and cold meats,” Allen said, adding that previous research has also shown an association with other important risks to Health, like cancer.
The new analysis, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found a risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death 3% to 7% higher for people who ate two servings of red meat and processed meat each week. That may seem small for an individual, but when extrapolated to a population level, the impact is large.
“The increase in absolute risk is so small that it is unlikely to be relevant to the individual,” Gunter Kuhnle, professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.
“However, at the population level, this is more important,” said Gunter, who was not involved in the study. “With approximately 1 million people diagnosed with heart disease each year, even a small reduction in absolute risk can have a considerable effect and reduce the number of people who suffer.”
According to Kevin McConway, a retired professor at the Open University, a distant learning center in the United Kingdom, the perspective of the new study seems to be a key reason why his findings differed so much from last fall’s report that he said red meat is Good to eat.
“How can the conclusions of two large-scale studies be so different? Well, it’s not because the statistical findings were different,” McConway said in a statement. He also did not participate in the study.
“The researchers in the new study are adopting a public health perspective; they point out that people can choose to eat less meat, and if they do and the relationship between meat consumption and the risk of disease is causal,” he said, “less people would have heart attacks and strokes, and on average people would live a little longer. “
The study also found a 4% higher risk of cardiovascular disease for people who ate two servings per week of poultry. But since the study did not ask if the chicken had no skin, was fried or breaded, the researchers say the findings are not clear enough to recommend any level of poultry intake.
However, the researchers emphasized that fried foods, including chicken and fish, should be avoided because deep frying can contribute to trans fatty acids, and the intake of fried fish has been positively related to chronic diseases.
The conclusion of the study? Anyone concerned about their heart health or the risk of cancer or other diseases should limit their consumption of red and processed meats, said lead study author Victor Zhong, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, in a statement .
“Our study shows that the link with cardiovascular disease and mortality was strong,” Zhong said. “Modifying the intake of these foods with animal proteins can be an important strategy to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death at the population level.”
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