Dangers of Red Meat (Beef, Lamb, etc.)

I have been a carnivore all my life. I grew up in Texas where nothing was considered healthier food than a rare piece of steak. As I’ve been reading more and more in recent years about the dangers of eating red meat, I have been reluctant to accept it. Of course as with all religions, there are evangelical vegetarians and vegans who with insufficient evidence condemn any diet but their own. Still they do have some evidence that their way of eating is better than that which we in south Texas engaged in.

As I have worked to lose weight in the last few years (I was born weighing 250 pounds. ;-), I have been eating a lot less red meat, getting my protein more from fish and tofu. Beef and lamb (My two favorite red meats) are especially high in calories. (Goat is much less so, as well as lower cholestral, but it is hard to find in the US and even then only poor cuts.) 

However, in the last few months even more research has shown just how much red meat contributes to poor health and to mortality. This has led me to the decision to completely forgo red meat, eating more fish, chicken and vegetable protein.

I’m not going to become an evangelist for my decision. Just want to share this story of the Harvard University Medical research.

All red meat is risky, a study finds

Eating any amount or type increased the chances of early death among adults tracked more than 20 years.

Eating any amount and any type of red meat increases the risk of premature death, a new study says.
any amount and any type — appears to significantly increase the risk of premature death, according to a long-range study that examined the eating habits and health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years.

For instance, adding just one 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat — picture a piece of steak no bigger than a deck of cards — to one’s daily diet was associated with a 13% greater chance of dying during the course of the study.

Even worse, adding an extra daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, was linked to a 20% higher risk of death during the study.

“Any red meat you eat contributes to the risk,” said An Pan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and lead author of the study, published online Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Crunching data from thousands of questionnaires that asked people how frequently they ate a variety of foods, the researchers also discovered that replacing red meat with other foods seemed to reduce mortality risk for study participants.

Eating a serving of nuts instead of beef or pork was associated with a 19% lower risk of dying during the study. The team said choosing poultry or whole grains as a substitute was linked with a 14% reduction in mortality risk; low-fat dairy or legumes, 10%; and fish, 7%.

Previous studies had associated red meat consumption with diabetes, heart disease and cancer, all of which can be fatal. Scientists aren’t sure exactly what makes red meat so dangerous, but the suspects include the iron and saturated fat in beef, pork and lamb, the nitrates used to preserve them, and the chemicals created by high-temperature cooking.

The Harvard researchers hypothesized that eating red meat would also be linked to an overall risk of death from any cause, Pan said. And the results suggest they were right: Among the 37,698 men and 83,644 women who were tracked, as meat consumption increased, so did mortality risk.

In separate analyses of processed and unprocessed meats, the group found that both types appear to hasten death. Pan said that at the outset, he and his colleagues had thought it likely that only processed meat posed a health danger.

Carol Koprowski, a professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine who wasn’t involved in the research, cautioned that it can be hard to draw specific conclusions from a study like this because there can be a lot of error in the way diet information is recorded in food frequency questionnaires, which ask subjects to remember past meals in sometimes grueling detail.

But Pan said the bottom line was that there was no amount of red meat that’s good for you.

“If you want to eat red meat, eat the unprocessed products, and reduce it to two or three servings a week,” he said. “That would have a huge impact on public health.”

A majority of people in the study reported that they ate an average of at least one serving of meat per day.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 20, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink | Reply

    Very interesting statistics. It seems like fish would be a much better alternative to red meat. I did not know the risk of premature death was high, although I have heard it increases chances of cancer.

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