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Nutrition | Avoid Processed Meat, Live Longer
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Men and women with a high consumption of processed meat are at increased risk of early death.

Avoid Processed Meat, Live Longer

Is meat bad for your health? A study published in BMC Medicine finds that processed meats — hot dogs, bacon, sausage, bologna and other sandwich meats — are a health hazard, contributing to heart disease, cancer and a shortened life overall.

Measuring meat’s effects

The study included 448,568 men and women living in ten European countries. The participants were 35 to 69 years old, were free of cancer, and had not had a stroke or heart attack upon enrollment in the study. They filled out health, lifestyle and diet questionnaires and were monitored for an average of 12.7 years.

The researchers grouped the participants according to how much meat they ate, including red meat, (beef, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat), white meat (chicken, turkey, duck, goose and rabbit), and processed meat (ham, bacon, sausage, prepared minced meat, and all other processed products from any meat source). Comparing the rates of medical events in each of the groups during the study, they found the following:

  • Compared to people who ate little or no processed meat, those who ate the most (160 grams; about 5 ounces per day or more) were 43 percent more likely to die from any cause. Specifically, cancer and heart disease were more likely to be causes of death among these heavy processed meat eaters.
  • Heavy red meat eaters had slightly higher risks of death from any cause and cancer death than people who don’t eat red meat, but these differences were not statistically significant.
  • Being a current or former smoker increased the harmful effect of processed meat consumption on mortality, while eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables decreased it.
  • Eating poultry had no effect on risk of death from any cause.

A good reason to steer clear of processed meats

“The results of our analyses suggest that men and women with a high consumption of processed meat are at increased risk of early death, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases but also to cancer,” the study’s authors said. “In this population, reduction of processed meat consumption to less than 20 grams [0.7 ounce] per day would prevent more than 3 percent of all deaths.”

Several previous studies done in the United States also found that eating processed meat was linked to earlier death, but in those studies the harmful effect of eating red meat was stronger than in the current study.

Choose unprocessed meats for a longer life

When it comes to choosing meat, there are lots of options. Here are some ways to keep processed meat out of your diet:

  • Remember your fish. Whether fresh, frozen or canned, eating cold-water fish like salmon and herring a couple of times each week may protect you against heart disease and some cancers. Stay away from processed and deep-fried fish like fish sticks and fish patties.
  • Mix it up. Eating some unprocessed red meat should not negatively effect health, especially if you balance it with lots of fruits and vegetables. Chicken and other poultry like turkey and duck are safe choices, as long as they aren’t processed into luncheon meats, sausages or hot dogs.
  • Go vegetarian. Start with one lunch or dinner each week and increase to the level that feels right for you. Beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, and soy foods like tofu and tempeh are good sources of protein and are linked with a lower heart disease risk.

(BMC Med 2013;11: doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-63)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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