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Red Meat Raises Risk of Early Death
Recent studies reveal red meat consumption to be associated with an increased risk of premature death; risk is higher with processed meats.

By Francisco Renick, M.D.
photos by adam dietrich

You don't have to be a physician or nutritionist to know that what we eat can have both positive and negative effects over our health and well-being. As grandmothers used to say: “we are what we eat”.

Health awareness and education programs, as well as media campaigns, teach people about healthy eating habits by indicating that at least half the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, while the remaining half should be one fourth whole grains or cereals and one third lean protein, such as meat or other animal products. But, what would you say if you knew that excessive red meat consumption, rather than being good for your health, might contribute to shortening your lifespan?

Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health took on the task of finding a relationship between red meat intake and mortality, publishing their findings on the March 12th issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. After analyzing data from two studies that tracked over 120,000 people for 28 years, they found that eating red meat on a daily basis increases the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer mortality by 12%. When it comes to processed meats, the risk of premature death increases by up to 20%.

According to the study, a single daily serving (50 grams) of processed meat (such as ham, chorizo, sausage links, salami and bacon, among others) can increase the risk of early death. An example of a daily serving? As little as one sausage in a hot dog! Moreover, its regular intake increases a person's risk for type 2 diabetes by 19% and the risk for colorectal cancer by 21%. Processed meats are harmful as a result of their high content in saturated fat and sodium, as well as in nitrates and nitrites, which are known carcinogens that are added to cured meat for flavor, color and stability.


At this point you might be ready to eliminate all forms of red meat from your and your family's diet for life, but hold on a minute! Always look for and choose natural or organic products; red meat that comes from cattle that's been treated with antibiotics and growth hormones is not the same as meat that comes from natural livestock farming. In addition, eating a small portion of lean meat is not the same as eating a large serving of fat-laden sausages or chorizo. Finally, just as fruits and vegetables can be consumed freely and on a daily basis, this does not apply to red meat: eat it in moderation and consider replacing it with fish and poultry.

Remember: despite the negative effects associated with it, moderate red meat consumption gives us many important nutrients, such as proteins, iron, vitamin B, essential amino acids, phosphorus and zinc. Therefore, as with everything in life, always use common sense when it comes to your diet!


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