Eating more red meat is associated with an increased risk of dying from eight common diseases including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as “all other causes” of death, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers examined data on almost 537,000 adults aged 50 to 71 and found the people who consumed the most red meat had 26 percent higher odds than those who ate the least of dying from a variety of causes.

But people who ate the most white meat, including poultry and fish, were 25 percent less likely to die of all causes during the study period than people who consumed the least, researchers report recently in The BMJ (British Medical Journal).

“Our findings confirm previous reports on the associations between red meat and premature death, and it is also large enough to show similar associations across nine different causes of death,” said lead study author Arash Etemadi of the National Cancer Institute, adding further,”We also found that for the same total meat intake, people who reported a diet with a higher proportion of white meat had lower premature mortality rates”.

For the study, researchers followed the health and eating habits of people from six U.S. states and two metropolitan areas over about 16 years. They analyzed survey data on total meat intake as well as consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat and white meat. Red meat included beef, lamb and pork, while white meat included chicken, turkey and fish.

Then, researchers sorted people into five groups from lowest to highest intake of red and white meat to see how this influenced their odds of death during the study period.

They evaluated deaths from nine conditions, including cancer, heart diseases, stroke and cerebrovascular disease, respiratory diseases, diabetes, infections, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease and chronic liver disease, as well as all other causes. Overall, 128,524 people died, with cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and stroke as the leading causes of death. Only Alzheimer’s disease risk was not linked to red meat consumption.

Certain ingredients in red meat, including nitrates and iron (from blood), may help to explain why it’s linked to higher mortality rates for the other causes of death, the authors argue.

The highest intake of iron was associated with 15 percent higher odds of premature death than the lowest intake, the study found.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove how the amount or type of certain meats might directly influence mortality.

Other limitations include the reliance on survey participants to accurately recall and report on their eating habits and the lack of data on any changes in people’s diets over time, the authors note.

Even so, the findings should reinforce the need for many adults to cut back on meat consumption, said Dr. John Potter of the Center for Public Health Research at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand.

Potter stated further that “Processed meat can produce cancer–causing chemicals, while saturated fats in meats can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease”. He also added that “Choosing organic meat may not change the risk of premature death, and mortality is higher with higher meat intake for every major cause of death except Alzheimer’s.”

“The really key issue in all this is that the current level of meat consumption, in most of the developed world and increasingly in low– and middle–income countries, is unprecedented in human history,” Potter said. “We need to reduce meat consumption back to about one–tenth of our current level.”

As I have stated in a previous communications, one should try to limit this type of meat consumption to no more than twice weekly. Throw the rest to the sharks!




    Most of us are aware that red meat—when taken in excess—is not a very healthy choice. But what constitutes an excess of this food, and how bad is it? So, let’s take a closer look at these issues:

    First, red meat may shorten your life! In 2012 scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health evaluated results from more than 120,000 subjects in two studies and found that, after a period of 28 years, those who ate the most red meat (two or more servings per day) had a 30% higher risk of dying than those who ate only about 1/2 serving or less per day. They concluded that 8% of deaths in women and almost 10% in men could be prevented if people consumed less than half a serving of red meat per day. In their study, a single serving was roughly 3 oz. of cooked steak, hamburger, and pork chop, but only 1 oz of sausage, ham, or other processed meat, and 1/2 oz. of bacon. These results fell in line with earlier studies involving half a million people. From this I would conclude that you don’t need to stop eating such meat entirely, but curtailing your intake to about once a week can eliminate most of the risk.

   Second, red meat is not “heart or brain healthy.” This means that the arteriosclerotic process resulting from consumption of this meat can lead to heart attacks and strokes, both resulting from closure of arteries supplying blood to the heart and brain. So even if you survive, you may impair the function of your heart or brain, and with it, your life style can go out the window! The reason: Red meat is a major source of saturated fat in the average diet. This latter fat raises bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and contributes to hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). But other compounds in this meat may contribute to these bad effects. These latter substances include nitrite, salt, iron from blood, and also potentially harmful compounds that are created when meats are cooked at high temperatures. Another possible culprit in meat is carnitine, a substance that may, on its own, enhance arteriosclerosis by promoting bacterial growth in the bowel that produces excessive TMAO (trimethylamine-N-exide). This latter substance is capable of producing accelerated heart disease in animals, and higher levels are found in individuals suffering from overt heart disease. These early observations are speculative and require further study for definite conclusions.

   Another threat red meat poses is a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a condition further enhancing the risks of  arteriosclerosis and other bad outcomes.  Several studies have linked processed red meats to an elevated rate of this disorder, and this may also extend to unprocessed red meats as well. One example: Harvard researchers tracked more than 200,000 people for up to 28 years and found that the risk of diabetes increased by 32% for every two ounces of processed meat—and by 12% for every three ounces of unprocessed meat eaten per day. Numerous possible explanations have been advanced explain this relationship, but the meaning is clear for each person’s eating habits. 

    Third, there is a relationship between red meat and cancer. The American Cancer Society has weighed in on this issue with the following statement: “Limit consumption of processed meat and red meat. To reduce your cancer risk, eat no more than 18 oz. per week of red meats such as beef, pork and lamb, and avoid processed meat such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, and sausage.” After careful analysis, they found that the risk of colon and rectal cancer rises by about 20% for every serving red or processed meat consumed daily, with additional suggestive evidence that the risk may extend to other cancers such as pancreas, prostate, or esophagus. How red meat could produce cancers is unknown, but there are two possible pathways: 1) N-nitroso compounds—capable of producing cancers in experimental animals—are created by the nitrites used to color and preserve processed meats like bacon, sausage, and lunch meats. But even unprocessed red meat seems to increase levels of these compounds, possibly through the effect of iron attached to the blood contained in red meat (as opposed to white meat).  2) When meats are cooked to well done at high temperatures, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed, and these compounds are carcinogenic, at least in animals. This latter danger can be reduced by cooking to less well done at lower temperatures, a measure that applies to all types of meat—red or white.

     Finally, excessive consumption of red meat is environmentally unfriendly. About two-thirds of corn and soybean production in the U.S.A. goes for animal feed rather than for humans. Since it requires about 5-8 lbs of feed to produce one lb of beef or pork, this inefficiency results in excessive use of water and fossil fuels which in turn jeopardizes our environment at a time when the world can ill-afford this burden.  Moreover, methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is produced by cattle and has 23 times the heat trapping capacity of carbon dioxide. Adding further to this burden, in order to accommodate increasing farmland to feed animals, forests must be cleared, again causing us to lose a valuable means to clear carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.

     So I can simply conclude that those cattle appearing repetitively on TV are passing along the correct advice—”Eat Mor Chikin”! (and Fish, too!)