Your Favorite Red Meat Is Killing You

Eating one serving of red meat per day can increase the risk of dying by 12 percent.

We love our bacon, but it can increase our risk of dying by 20 percent. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Lara064.

Looks like vegetarians have yet another reason to be smug. In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that eating one serving of red meat per day increased participants’ risk of dying by 12 percent.

More than 121,000 health professionals were observed over a 28-year period. Every couple of years, researchers collected information about the participants’ diet, including how often they consumed each food of a standard portion size. Red meat was divided into unprocessed (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed (bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, bologna, etc.).

Researchers found that men and women who ate one serving of unprocessed red meat increased their mortality risk by 12 percent; for processed red meat, the risk of dying increased by 20 percent.

In particular, bacon and hot dog lovers were also at higher risk of dying.

Participants who had high intakes of red meat were also less likely to exercise and more likely to smoke, drink, and have a higher body mass index. They were also less likely to eat fruits and vegetables.

The study was the first to examine whether certain dietary substitutions for red meat lowered mortality risks. Researchers had participants replace one serving of red meat with a serving of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, or whole grains. They found that all substitutions lowered mortality risks by varying degrees: 7 percent for fish, 14 percent for poultry, 10 percent for legumes, 10 percent for low-fat dairy products, and 14 percent for whole grains. Nuts were the best substitute; they lowered mortality risks by 19 percent.

In addition, researchers found that if men and women had consumed fewer than half of one serving of red meat per day, total deaths could have been prevented by 9.3 and 7.6 percent, respectively.

“We have a spectrum of choices; it’s not all or nothing,” researchers said in the Archives of Internal Medicine. “What we include in our diet is as important as what we exclude, so substituting healthier foods for red meat provides a double benefit to our health.”

To read the entire study, click here.