Red meat and risk of death – what’s all the fuss about?

Published on the 13th Mar, 2012 by Azmina

So, there’s been huge media frenzy over a large Harvard study just published in the journal ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’. News reports today talk about how red meat substantially increases the risk of deaths from heart disease and cancer. Let’s look at this in context….

What did the research find?

The Science: Red meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. Replacing red meat with other healthy protein sources was associated with a lower mortality risk. And in plain English: basically, the authors concluded that you are less likely to die from these conditions if you eat less red and processed meats.

Does this mean we should say ‘no’ to red meat?

No! It’s about putting the results of this long-term study into context. If you’re someone who frequently eats steak, pork chops, burgers and pies, it would do you good to make some changes. If you’re someone who eats lean red meat a couple of times a week, with other protein sources like fish, chicken, lentils or beans on other days, I would say you’re spot on.

Lean red meat is an important source of iron, zinc and vitamin D and has a role in a healthy, balanced diet. So you don’t need to cut it out of your diet completely.

What about hot dogs and bacon?

Processed meat can be high in harmful saturated fat, sodium, nitrites, and certain carcinogens (cancer-provoking substances) that are formed during the processing of meats. These have been linked to increased risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends we avoid processed meats.

What does this mean for you?

It’s all about balance and variety. We eat for pleasure and healthy eating is not about denying yourself your favourite foods. Enjoy lean red meat as part of a balanced, varied diet. Choose lean cuts and grill, roast without added fat, or barbeque. The amount you eat should be around the size of your palm, and serve it with lots of veg.

Choose fish, chicken, turkey, or beans and lentils as your protein source several times a week. The research showed that nuts reduce death risks for heart disease by about a fifth. Choose a handful of unsalted nuts daily – even peanut butter on your toast in the morning is a good idea (instead of the peanuts, not aswell as them!).

Getting the balance right

  • Enjoy lean red meat in moderate amounts as part of a balanced and varied diet and choose fish, chicken, turkey and veggie proteins like beans, nuts, soya and lentils often. Cut down on processed meats.
  • Eat more fruit and veg.
  • Choose whole grain carbs like oats, whole grain breads and breakfast cereals instead of low fibre types.
  • Eat more beans, lentils and fish especially oily fish.
  • Go low on unhealthy carbs like sugar-rich foods and drinks, pies and pastries.
  • Choose unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats – e.g. choose rapeseed oil, olive oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, avocado, nuts, oily fish.
  • Watch your portion size, eat consciously, have variety and enjoy every mouthful!

Science bods can read the study here.