New research clearly showed that those eating the most processed meats, like bacon, sausage and ham (and to a lesser extent, eating red meats) will die sooner due to heart disease and cancer, and all “other causes of death”.
The study published online yesterday, in the medical journal BMC Medicine, continues to affirm that enjoyable processed foods increases the risk of common chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. The study followed the eating habits and health of almost 500,000 middle aged men and women with no previous heart, cancer or health concerns over, on average, a 13 year period.
We may have heard that red meats increase cholesterol levels, resulting in heart disease or cancer. And it is true. The research showed that enjoying a high consumption of red meat (160+ g/day) increased the risk of death (due to cardiovascular, cancer, respiratory, digestive tract and other diseases) by 15% compared with consuming a low 10 to 19.9 g/day. More alarming, that high intake of processed meats increase the risk of death (due to cardiovascular, cancer, respiratory, digestive tract and other diseases) by almost 50% compared to a low intake.
For those who are concerned about heart disease, the study found that participants who consumed 160+ g of processed meat per day had a 72% increase risk of death compared with those who consumed only mod- erate amounts (10 to 19.9 g/day).
The authors explained that processed meats usually contain higher content of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, which contribute to increasing the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, manufacturing process of cured or smoked meat involves high levels of salt and additives, which also contributes to high blood pressure, and subsequent heart disease.
The authors concluded that more than 3% of these premature deaths could easily be prevented if people ate less than 20g of processed meat per day.
So should you eat any processed or red meats?
The simple answer, is Yes. Enjoying a moderate amount of (red) meat as part of your balanced diet is okay, and you will gain some important vitamins and minerals. You can also choose leaner cuts of meat, and healthier cooking choices to keep your heart healthy. Minimizing the intake of processed meats, like sausages, hotdogs, and sliced and canned hams will benefit those who eat it regularly, and opt for alternative protein choices instead, like chicken, fish, tofu and eggs. And of course, eating a variety of vegetables and fruits is perfectly fine too.
- Rohrmann S, Overvad K, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, et al. Meat consumption and mortality. Results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. BMC Med 2013; available here.