Eating red meat is associated with all causes of death, a new study finds. Red meat also harms the earth by the detrimental effect the livestock used for the meat market have on the environment. It seems that dropping your sausage may good for not just you, but mankind and mother nature.
What did the study look at?
Researchers looked at particular components of processed and unprocessed red meat. Processed meat is meat that has been cured, salted, smoked, or otherwise preserved in some way. Investigating over 500,000 men and women aged 50 – 71 in the US, the team found an increased risk of early death in red meat eaters. The most common causes of death were cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and stroke. The specific cause of death most strongly related to eating more red meat was as a result of chronic liver disease.
The researchers did compare those who had similar lifestyles and similar health at baseline to reduce the chances that other factors could be blamed. However, they did use information from a single initial food questionnaire. This did not allow them to measure changes in diet over the time period that they were following those in the study. The team adjusted for this.
What about white meat?
Meat is determined to be ‘white’ if it contains a certain amount of blood in the tissue. Pork is categorised as red meat because of it’s chemical composition. Interestingly, those who had more white meat in their diet in this study were less likely to die from nearly all the causes of death. When they looked at those who effectively swapped white meat for red meat, this benefit was especially true for those eating more unprocessed white meat.
What is already known?
In 2015, the World Health Organisation deemed eating processed meat has the same potential to cause cancer as smoking cigarettes and using UV tanning beds. The press release explained that looking through over 800 studies, there is evidence that through eating each 50g portion of processed meat everyday, an individual has an increased risk of developing colorectal (large bowel) cancer of 18%. 50g is less than an average sausage or two rashes of bacon.
The overall risk of developing cancer of the large bowel is small and so this increase is small in terms of increased number of people. However it does add to growing opinion that processed meat is not good for our health. Unlike this study, they have not specified that this is only processed red meat and include all forms of processed meat in their advice. However, they do identify that all red meat is ‘probably carcinogenic’ (causes cancer) and generally processed meat is more likely to be processed red meat.
Other research looking at diets of Europeans has shown that those eating more processed red meat means that you are more likely to die from heart disease and cancer than those eating less and that this is not true for those eating poultry.
How does eating meat affect the environment?
There is increasing belief and evidence that eating meat may not be sustainable for the planet. Livestock is a major player in causes of climate change. This is related to many things including the large volumes of water required to sustain livestock as well as trees lost to land used for grazing and to grow the animals’ feed. Forest Green Rovers, the only vegetarian football club in the country, have made going meat-free as part of their ‘Environment Policy’. They have just been promoted to the Football League which begs the question: should we all be following in the successful Green Devils’ footsteps and go vegetarian?
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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing. All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice. Article proofed and edited for publication by Dr. BM Janaway.
Links and Further Reading
- Etemadi A, Sinha R, Ward MH, et al. Mortality from different causes associated with meat, heme iron, nitrates, and nitrites in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ 2017;357:j1957. Available via: http://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1957
- Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, et al. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental issues and options.FAO, 2006. Available online via: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e.pdf
- 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 Med2013;357:63. Available online via: http://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-11-63
- WHO. IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. 2015. Available online via: https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf
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