Eating red meat raises the overall risk of death from heart disease and various forms of cancer, a major new study finds.
Harvard School of Public Health researchers, reporting in the Archives of Internal Medicine, said people who regularly eat red meat risk are 18-21 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 10-16 percent more likely to die from cancer.
The study also showed that substituting other healthy protein sources -- such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes – lowers the risk of death.
"Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies," said lead author An Pan, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.
For the study, researchers tracked 37,698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for up to 22 years and 83,644 women in the Nurses' Health Study for up to 28 years who were free of heart disease and cancer at the beginning. Diets were assessed through questionnaires every four years.
Nearly 24,000 of the people in the two studies died and, after analyzing the causes and dietary habits in those cases, researchers determined regular consumption of red meat -- particularly processed red meat -- was associated with increased mortality risk. One daily serving of red meat -- the size of a deck of cards – increases the death risk 13 percent. A single daily serving of processed red meat – such as one hot dog or two slices of bacon -- was associated with a 20 percent increased risk.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute.