Swapping red meat for other protein sources reduces risk of early death

In collaboration with the Press Association

Swapping just one portion of red meat a day for another source of protein such as fish, chicken, nuts or pulses reduces the risk of dying from cancer and heart disease, a US study has found.

One daily serving of unprocessed red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) increased the overall risk of early death by 13 per cent in people in the study, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

And one serving of processed red meat a day - such as one hot dog or two slices of bacon - increased the risk by 20 per cent.

But replacing one serving of red meat with a serving of fish decreased risk of early death by seven per cent. And replacing red meat with chicken decreased the risk by 14 per cent.

Swapping a serving of red meat with nuts lowered risk of death by 19 per cent; with pulses by 10 per cent; with low-fat dairy products by 10 per cent; and with whole grains 14 per cent.

The researchers looked at 22 years of data for 37,698 men from one study and 28 years of data for 83,644 women from a different study. None of the men or women had heart disease or cancer at the start of the study.

They assessed people's diets with a questionnaires every four years.

The researchers, from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), said that their study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies.

Professor Frank Hu from HSPH added: "Choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality."

Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, agreed that the findings add to the body of evidence showing that reducing red meat intake lessens the risk of dying from cancer or heart disease.

"Eating less processed red meat like bacon, ham or sausages had the greatest effect," she said.

She added: "Years of research has shown that eating a lot of these foods increases the risk of developing bowel cancer, the third most common type of cancer in the UK. Other ways to reduce the risk of bowel cancer include keeping a healthy weight, staying physically active, cutting down on alcohol and being a non-smoker."

Copyright Press Association 2012

References

  • Pan, A. et al. (2012). Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies Archives of Internal Medicine DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287