A new study may have bad news for red meat lovers as it suggests red meat may increase your risk of dying from nine ailments, including cancer and heart disease.
In addition to cancer and heart disease, researchers found a correlation between eating red meat and an increased risk of death from respiratory disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, liver disease and kidney disease.
For the study, researchers analyzed the eating habits of about 540 men and women ages 50 to 71 to start. After 16 years, they looked at who died and why. Researchers learned that those in the highest one-fifth of people who ate red meat had a 26 percent increased death risk compared with the one-fifth of people who ate the least red meat. Beef, lamb and pork qualified as red meat.
On the other hand, those who ate the most white meat had a 25 percent reduced risk of death from those causes compared with people with the lowest intake level of that meat. White meat was defined as fish or poultry.
All meat contains heme iron and processed meat has nitrates and nitrites added during curing. The authors of the study hypothesise that these additions cause oxidative stress, which means that our cells are less able to defend themselves from damage by free radicals and age prematurely. Other mechanisms include mutagenic substances in cooked meat that are linked to bowel cancer.
“The results show increased risks of all-cause mortality and death due to nine different causes associated with both processed and unprocessed red meat.
“They also show reduced risks associated with substituting white meat, particularly unprocessed white meat. The effects of meat on human health may be due to ingredients such as heme iron, nitrates, and nitrites.
“High intakes of heme iron have been shown to be associated with cancer and cardiovascular disease. Nitrates and nitrites are added to meat during the curing process.
“Some investigators believe that nitrates from vegetable sources may have potential benefits, particularly for cardiovascular health, but nitrate/nitrite from drinking water and processed meat has been associated with increased risks of different cancers,” the researchers said.
In the results published in the British Medical Journal, the researchers pointed out their study is only observational, but the findings do suggest that when you can, swapping your steak meat for chicken may reduce your risk of suffering from some of the deadliest diseases worldwide.
Ideally, people are advised to replace most red meat with white meat or fish. If you must have red meat, you should avoid anything processed, keep portions small and barbeque, as animal studies show that direct heat produces cancer-causing chemicals.
Red meat is a good source of proteins, vitamin B, iron and zinc and your individual risk of any of these conditions is likely to be raised by only a small amount per slab of meat.
A WHO working group in 2015 had previously looked at more than 800 studies of the link between red meat and cancer and declared red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans” and processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans”.
WHO concluded that each 50g portion of processed meat a day increased the chance of bowel cancer by 18%. They also linked it to pancreatic and stomach cancer.