Limiting processed meat consumption 'could prevent three per cent of premature deaths'
If everyone ate less than 20g of processed meat a day, there would be a three per cent drop in premature deaths from cancer and heart disease, according to new European research.
High consumption of red and processed meat has previously been linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, particularly bowel cancer, as well as cardiovascular diseases.
The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study - part-funded by Cancer Research UK - is following the diets, medical records and death certificates of half a million men and women from 10 European countries.
Its latest analysis, published in the journal BMC Medicine, looked at patterns of consumption of meat among participants, and how this related to their cause of death.
Over an average of nearly 13 years, 26,344 study participants died. Of these, 5,556 died of cardiovascular diseases, 9,861 of cancer, 1,068 of respiratory diseases, 715 of digestive tract diseases, and 9,144 of other causes.
Analysis showed that a person's risk of premature death from cancer or heart disease increased with the amount of processed meat they ate, even once other lifestyle variables were factored in.
No link was seen between red meat or poultry.
Those who ate the most processed meat also ate the fewest fruit and vegetables and were more likely to smoke, while men who ate a lot of meat also tended to drink heavily, the study found.
Yinka Ebo, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "There's a clear link between eating too much processed meat and bowel cancer, but this study suggests that cutting down on these meats could also reduce the risk of dying prematurely.
"There's no need to abandon meat altogether, but if you eat a lot of processed meat it's worth cutting down by eating smaller and fewer portions, or eating fish, poultry or beans instead," she added.
Copyright Press Association 2013