Red meat intake linked with higher risk of death in study of 81,469 adults

Increased red meat intake — especially processed red meat — is tied to increased risk of death over 8 years, according to results today in the British Medical Journal.

Results also suggested that substituting red meat with healthier alternatives, such as whole grains or vegetables, may lower the risk for death.

 

Making sense of the beef with red meat

This long-term study provides further evidence that reducing red meat intake while eating other protein foods or more whole grains and vegetables may reduce risk of premature death.

Red meat, especially processed meat, contains saturated fat, high levels of sodium, preservatives, and potential carcinogens that can contribute to health problems.

Eating red meat has been tied to increased risk for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Processed red meat, like hot dogs and bacon, has been linked to an even larger number of health problems, as well as increased risk for death.

 

Study details

The authors of the study analysed data from two prospective US cohort studies: the Nurses’ Health Study (53,553 women) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (27,916 men). Participants were free from cardiovascular disease or cancer at baseline.

An important factor in the study is that the researchers looked at the change in consumption over time, rather than actual intake of red meat.

After adjusting for age, race, smoking, alcohol consumption, and several other factors, including baseline red meat consumption, the researchers found that increasing total red meat consumption by up to 3.5 servings per week over 8 years was linked to 10% higher risk for death compared with no change in red meat consumption.

When they distinguished between processed and unprocessed red meat, they found a similar trend, with the risk associated with processed meat higher than that for unprocessed meat. Specifically, increased consumption of processed red meat by up to 3.5 servings per week was tied to 13% increased risk for death, whereas the same increase in unprocessed red meat consumption was tied to 9% increased risk for death.

Results were similar regardless of age, physical activity level, diet quality, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Results were also similar with 4- and 12-year changes in consumption.

Risk for death decreased when one serving per day of red meat was replaced with one serving per day of nuts, whole grains, vegetables without legumes, dairy, eggs, and legumes.

 

Consistent with previous data

During the past decade, much has been written on diet and the association with cancer risk. A number of studies have found varying associations between the consumption of red meat and cancer.

In a recent study, published this year in the International Journal of Epidemiology, authors found that consuming a moderate amount of red or processed meat is associated with an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

According to their findings, an average of 76 grams of red meat or processed meat a day, which is in line with current government recommendations from the United Kingdom, was associated with a 20% higher chance of developing colorectal cancer as compared to consuming only about 21 grams a day.

The primary dataset used in this study is the UK Biobank cohort, comprised of almost 500,000 participants.

The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund published several reports during the past 10 years or so on the effect of diet, nutrition, and/or physical activity on risk for several cancer types.

Their most recent study, published in 2017, found that consuming red meat and processed meat may increase the risk for colorectal cancer, as may drinking two or more alcoholic beverages per day. On the flip side, eating whole grains daily and ramping up activity levels can reduce the risk.

 

Conclusion

It is becoming increasingly clear that replacing meat with healthy plant based foods, such as vegetables or whole grains, can improve longevity.

But the health benefits of keeping meat of the menu is only one side of the issue. For conscience-stricken individuals, it is the colossal death and destruction caused by animal agriculture that makes meat unpalatable.

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Meat And Health: Assimilating The Facts

Still having dinner according to your grandmother’s advice of ‘meat and two veg’? How very 2017 of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Mintel’s Meat-Free Foods UK Market Report, more than one in four Britons are now favouring a vegetarian lifestyle.

Vegetarians have many reasons for not eating meat, including concern for animal welfare, health benefits, and reduced environmental damage. Here are some of the benefits of leaving meat off your plate.

 

Are humans meant to eat meat?

The dietary status of the human species is that of an ‘unspecialised frugivore’ – an animal specialised for nuts, grains, seeds, fruit and vegetables, but can handle ‘unspecialised’ food sources too. Biochemistry, comparative anatomy and genetics do not support the contention that human digestive tract is specialised for meat-eating. ‘But we have canines!’ is the all-too-common quickfire rhetoric.

 

Our pathetic, short and blunt canines may be useful to take a bite out of an apple. But try lunging for the throat of a cow and see if they are of any use then.

Due to limited resources our ancestors became habituated to eating meat, and through evolution our gut can handle it to some degree. But it is not the case that we are specialised for meat eating or need it in our diet to be healthy. In fact, the opposite is the case.

 

The WHO report

A wealth of research indicates that vegetarians have reduced incidences of diseases, and overall greater longevity. In support of this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen. Tobacco smoking and asbestos are classified in the same category. As stated on their website, ‘this classification is based on sufficient evidence … that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer’.

Moreover, red meat is classified as Group 2A, which means it’s ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. My gut feeling is that it is only a matter of time that additional evidence will confirm this positive association.

Put it this way: if you had a choice between a meal that is proven to be protective against cancer (e.g. a wholefood, plant-based meal) and one that is ‘probably carcinogenic’ (e.g. a meal that contains red meat), which one would you choose?

Nevertheless, there are other health risks that are associated with meat eating such as coronary heart disease and diabetes, to which we now turn.

 

Backed up by research

In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the authors state that ‘Vegetarians had a 32% lower risk of [ischaemic heart disease] than did nonvegetarians’. And a study published in Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism showed that vegetarians had an overall 18% lower cancer incidence. Moreover, the largest study to examine the effects of different sources of dietary protein found that a high intake of proteins from animal sources – particularly processed and unprocessed red meats – was associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, whereas high plant protein intake had an inverse effect. The authors note that, ‘substitution of plant protein for animal protein … was associated with lower mortality, suggesting the importance of protein source’.

To be fair, a limitation of some epidemiological studies is that they do not consider the food source and the quality of the meat. However, in a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine, 73,308 participants were analysed and were controlled for important demographic, lifestyle and food confounders. They found that even a modest amount of red meat, regardless of the source, led to an increased rate of mortality. Whereas vegetarian dietary patterns were associated with reduced all-cause mortality and increased longevity.

In a study published in American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that a higher intake of red meat and poultry is associated with significantly increased risk of developing diabetes. Further, in a 2017 Sweden study, it was found that beef, pork and poultry are associated with colorectal cancer, which is considered one of the most common forms of cancer in the Western world. In fact, heart disease and cancer are the biggest killers on the planet, both of which have been directly linked to meat consumption.

 

Colossal damage

Aside from the health issues, rearing livestock for food is highly inefficient and wasteful. Every year over 56 billion animals are slaughtered by humans, not to mention sea creatures whose deaths are so great they are only tallied in tonnes. The crops fed to industrially-reared animals worldwide could feed an extra four billion people on the planet.

Let us not forget the devastating effect of the meat industry has on the environment. A staggering 51% of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute. Grass fed, and ‘humanely slaughtered’ (an oxymoron) is even more unsustainable.

 

Conclusion

Humans have been facultative meat eaters for a long time, but recent research suggests that a diet with minimal meat is much more healthful. And we certainly do not need meat nutritionally in our day and age.

But the health benefits of keeping meat of the menu is only one side of the argument. For many, it is the ethical implications that make meat indigestible.

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