People who eat more red meat seem to have a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer and all-cause mortality, says a study published Online First in the Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archive journals. Those who substitute red meat with other foods, such as fish and poultry are linked to a lower risk of mortality.

The study’s background information says that in many diets the key source for protein and fat is meat, and yet earlier research shows that the consumption of meat is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and certain types of cancer.

An Pan, Ph.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, and team evaluated data from two prospective cohort studies, with repeated measures of diet and up to 28 years of follow-up, which included data from 37,698 men and 83,644 women. They noted 23,926 deaths, which included 5,910 deaths from CVD and 9,464 deaths from cancer.

The team writes:

“We found that a higher intake of red meat was associated with a significantly elevated risk of total, CVD and cancer mortality, and this association was observed for unprocessed and processed red meat, with a relatively greater risk for processed red meat. Substitution of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products and whole grains for red meat was associated with a significantly lower risk of mortality.”

Findings of the pooled analysis showed that for a one-serving-per-day the risk of mortality increased by 12% for consuming total red meat, by 13% for unprocessed red meat and by 20% for processed red meat.

After analyzing meat substitutes, they estimated that replacing one daily serving of total red meat with one serving of either fish, poultry, vegetables, nuts, low-fat dairy products or whole grains lowered the mortality risk by 7%, 14%, 10%, 19%, 10% and 14% respectively, saying:

“We estimated that 9.3 percent in women of total deaths during follow-up could be prevented if all the participants consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day of total red meat in these cohorts.”

Dean Ornish, M.D., of the University of California in San Francisco states in an invited comment:

“In addition to their health benefits, the food choices we make each day affect other important areas as well. What is personally sustainable is globally sustainable. What is good for you is good for our planet. More than 75 percent of the $2.6 trillion in annual U.S. health care costs are from chronic disease. Eating less red meat is likely to reduce morbidity from these illnesses, thereby reducing health care costs.”

Written by Petra Rattue