By Vanessa Chalmers Health Reporter For Mailonline
Eating red or processed meat twice a week raises the risk of heart disease and also of an early death of any cause, a study has suggested.
Those who have just two portions a week are three per cent more likely to suffer a premature death, the study of almost 30,000 people found.
And the habit increased their risk of getting heart disease by up to seven per cent.
Only fish was regarded to be completely safe, according to the US researchers, but fish is lacking in most people’s diets.
The findings come after a controversial report last year suggested that the link between meat and heart disease was so weak that people cutting it out of their diet for that reason might as well not bother.
A study of more than 30,000 people found those who had just two portions of red or processed meat a week were three per cent more likely to suffer a premature death in the study period. Pictured, red meat includes steak and mince
For processed meat, one serving consisted of two small links of sausage or one hot dog
For processed meat, one serving consisted of two slices of bacon
Eating processed meat (such as sausages and bacon, pictured) twice a week increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by seven per cent
Senior author of the current research, Professor Norrina Allen, from Northwestern University, Chicago, said even a small change could be a good thing.
‘It is a small difference, but it is worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,’ she said.
Processed meat, such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, pates and ham, is anything which has been modified by smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, examined self-reported diets of 29,682 men and women with an average age of 53.
The researchers defined a ‘serving’ of red meat or poultry as a four-ounce portion – roughly 115 grams.
For processed meat, one serving consisted of two slices of bacon, two small links of sausage, or one hot dog.
The findings show that eating two servings of red meat or processed meat per week was linked with a three per cent higher risk of all causes of death.
Eating processed meat twice a week increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by seven per cent, and unprocessed red meat by four per cent.
Eating poultry twice a week was linked to an increase of cardiovascular disease by four per cent.
But the researchers said this finding was less clear-cut – and may be linked to how someone cooks their chicken.
The finding may be related to the method of cooking the chicken and consumption of the skin, rather than the meat itself.
Lead author Dr Victor Zhong, now at Cornell University, New York, said: ‘Fried chicken, especially deep fat-fried sources that contribute trans-fatty acids, and fried fish intake have been positively linked to chronic diseases.
Should You Cut Back On Red Meat? What The Evidence Says Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals in the diet.
The Department of Health advises that we eat no more than 70g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, which is the average daily consumption in the UK.
This is mainly because there is a link between bowel cancer and red meat, such as beef and lamb, and processed meat, such as sausages and bacon.
A 2011 report called Iron and Health from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) assessed evidence on the link between bowel cancer and iron – meat is the main source of iron.
SACN concluded that eating a lot of red and processed meat probably increases the risk of bowel cancer, and advised accordingly.
The American Institute for Cancer Research advises we consume no more than three portions of red meat a week and urges us to ‘avoid’ processed meats.
Processed meat often contains nitrogen-based preservatives that stop it going off while being transported or stored.
These preservatives have been linked to both bowel and stomach cancer.
When red meat is digested, the pigment haem gets broken down in our gut to form chemicals called N-nitroso compounds.
These compounds have been found to damage the DNA of cells that line our digestive tract, which could trigger cancer.
Our body may also react to this damage by making cells divide more rapidly to replace those that are lost.
This ‘extra’ cell division may increase the risk of cancer.
Cancer Research UK says three chemicals in meat are linked to bowel cancer because they damage cells in the gut.
This may be due to the preservatives used or the meats’ higher levels of saturated fat than chicken and fish.
However, researchers in Canada, Spain and Poland cast a shadow over eating advice adopted by health organisations around the world in November 2019.
In a landmark paper, the academics analysed past studies of how eating meat affected the health of more than four million people.
The research, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found no evidence that eating beef, pork and lamb could increase the rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke or type 2 diabetes – despite fears.
‘Our study shows the link to cardiovascular disease and mortality was robust.
‘Modifying intake of these animal protein foods may be an important strategy to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death at a population level.’
Commenting on the findings, independent experts said the risks were ‘small’ but still important.
Professor Gunter Kuhnle of the University of Reading, added: ‘The increase in absolute risk is so small that it is unlikely to be relevant for the individual – there is no need to stop eating meat.
‘On a population level, this is more important.
‘With about one million people being diagnosed with heart disease every year, even a small reduction in absolute risk can have a considerable effect and reduce the number of people suffering.’
Professor Kevin McConway of the Open University, said those who ate two or more servings of red or processed meat a week would have their life cut short by around two to six months, based on the data.
He said: ‘These are pretty small changes, given that life expectancy at birth in the UK is 79 years for men and 83 years for women.’
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), heart disease and stroke are the world’s biggest killers, causing more than 15million deaths in 2016.
The WHO classes red meat as probably cancer-causing and processed meat as carcinogenic, meaning it’s definitely linked to the cancer.
The scientific consensus is eating a lot is bad for your health – time and time again, studies have shown the dangers.
A recent analysis of more than 400,000 Europeans found their risk of heart disease rose 19 per cent for every 100 grams of red or processed meat they consumed daily.
This would be equivalent to about four rashers of bacon, or one and a quarter sausages.
Public Health England have long advised people to limit meat intake to no more than 70g a day – the equivalent of one lamb chop, one pork sausage, half a beef burger, or one-and-a-half rashers of bacon – because there is a link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer.
However, scientists caused an uproar last November when a controversial meta-analysis suggested cutting down on sausages, mince, steak and all other forms of red or processed meat is pointless.
The review of previous research by a Canadian team concluded that people don’t need to reduce the amount of red meat and processed meat they eat because the risk to their health was small.
Professor Allen said: ‘Everyone interpreted it was OK to eat red meat, but I don’t think that is what the science supports.’
Diets that cut down on meat or eliminate it all together are becoming more popular. Reasons range from health benefits to environmental concerns and animal welfare issues.
Co author Professor Linda Van Horn, also from Northwestern who is a member of the 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee, said: ‘Fish, seafood and plant-based sources of protein such as nuts and legumes, including beans and peas, are excellent alternatives to meat and are under-consumed in the US.’