A unique and atypically large study, of half a million men and women, has shown an association between processed meat and cardiovascular disease and cancer.
This was not an easy assessment because measuring the effect of eating meat alone, without considering a person’s lifestyle on health, is difficult.
Often vegetarians have healthier lifestyles than the general population, are less likely to smoke, are less fat, and are more likely to be physically active. Only within a very large study like this one can researchers isolate the consequences of eating meat and processed from other lifestyle choices.
This study, aptly called EPIC for European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, involved ten countries and 23 centers in Europe.
In general, researchers found that a diet high in processed meat was, indeed, linked to other unhealthy choices. For instance, men and women who ate the most processed meat ate the fewest fruit and vegetables and were more likely to smoke. Men who ate a lot of meat also tended to consume a lot of alcohol.
A small amount of red meat showed benefits because meat is a source of nutrients and vitamins. However, a person’s risk of premature death from all causes increased with the amount of processed meat eaten. This remained true after adjusting for lifestyle variables.
Lead researcher, Sabine Rohrmann, from the University of Zurich, explained, “Risks of dying earlier from cancer and cardiovascular disease also increased with the amount of processed meat eaten. Overall, we estimate that 3% of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20 grams of processed meat per day.” Twenty grams is only about a quarter of an ounce. Not much to give up each day to save your life.
The research will be published in BMC Medicine, the flagship medical journal of the BMC series, marking the launch of an article collection on Medicine for Global Health in BMC Medicine. The collection focuses on public health initiatives, the development of health care policies and evidence-based guidelines which are needed to address the global burden of disease.
Learn more about a meatless diets and health here. Find a vegetarian starter kit here.
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