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Eating a portion of processed red meat daily can increase a person’s risk of dying young by up to 20%, said a long-running US study of more than 120 000 people released on 12 March 2012.
While the research by Harvard University experts offers more evidence that eating red meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer, it also counsels that substituting fish and poultry may lower early death risk. ‘This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death,’ said Frank Hu, senior author of the study, which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Researchers gleaned their data from a study of 37 698 men who were followed up for 22 years and 83 644 women who were tracked for 28 years. Subjects answered surveys about their eating habits every four years. Those who ate a card-deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat each day on average had a 13% higher risk of dying than those who did not eat red meat as frequently. If the red meat was processed, the risk jumped to 20%. Substituting nuts for red meat lowered total mortality risk by 19%, while poultry or whole grains lowered it by 14% and fish by 7%.
The authors said that between 7% and 9% of all deaths in the study ‘could be prevented if all the participants consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day of total red meat’
Processed red meat has been shown to contain ingredients such as saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and some carcinogens that are linked to many chronic ailments, including heart disease and cancer.
A separate study, also led by Hu but published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal, found that men who drank sugar-sweetened beverages daily faced a 20% higher risk of heart disease than men who did not. The effects were not seen in men who drank up to two sugar-sweetened beverages per week.
According to Hu, this research ‘provides strong justification for reducing sugary beverage consumption among patients, and more importantly, in the general population’.
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