A high profile study was recently released showing that people who eat red meat on a regular basis increase their risk of dying early. Red meat has been a staple of the American Diet since forever. Is red meat really that bad?
The study looked at the behaviors of 121,000 people over 28 years. It found that those eating red meat on a regular basis increased their chances of dying early. The study found that each additional serving of red meat per day increased the risk of dying during the time period of the study by 13%. It also found that each additional serving of processed meat per day (foods such as: bacon, salami and hotdogs) increased the risk of dying during the time period of the study by 20%.
During the 28 year coarse of the study, 20% of the participants died. The study concluded that of those 20%, 9% of deaths among men and 8% of deaths among women could have been prevented if the participants would have decreased their intake of red meat to less than half a serving per day.
The reason that red meat increases your risk of an early death is: saturated fat, cholesterol and effects of charring meat at high temperatures. Saturated fat and cholesterol have long been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease which leads to heart attacks and strokes. Meat charred at high temperatures can produce carcinogens.
Processed meat is worse than red meat because it contains addidtives that such as nitrites that have been shown to increase the risk of cancer. In general, processed foods sacrifice good nutrition for convinience and should be avoided. The more cooking you can do with fresh ingredients, the healthier your meals will turn out.
What should you do?
Though there's no doubt that giving up fatty meats will improve your overall health, there's no need to become a vegan and give meat up completely. You should however decrease your intake of these fatty and processed meats. The study recommends eating no more than 2-3 servings of red meat per week. An actual serving of meat is 3oz which is about the size of a deck of cards. Most Americans eat a steak as big as the weekly recommendation in one sitting!
Eat Less Red Meat. The study found that replacing one daily serving of red meat with fish, chicken, turkey, whole grain, legumes or even low fat dairy reduces the risk of dying by 7-19%. If you don't want to totally give up red meat, eat less and replace it with healthier foods. The study recommended eating no more than 2-3 servings (1 serving = 3oz) of red meat per week.
Eat Healthier. Even if you don't give up red meat, increasing the amount of plant based foods you consume will greatly improve your overall health. Plant foods are packed with "hunreds of thousands" of substances that prevent disease. The substances (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber) are not found in anywhere near the quantities they are in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes. These foods can prevent cancer, heart attacks and strokes. If you eat red meat, include these foods with every meal.
Eat Different Meats. Not all meats produce the same dangerous effects. Poultry is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Fish is high in unsatureated fats and omega 3 fatty acids which can help decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. Even some cuts of beef can be relatively low in saturated fat.
Benefits of Low/No Meat Consumption
1. Health. The evidence is very clear that diets high in meat (specificially red and processed meat) will increase your risk of some nasty health problems including heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Replacing meat products with plant based foods will prevent a lot of these diseases and can even prolong your life.
2. Looks. Prior studies have shown that those who eat less animal products weigh less and have a lower body fat percentage than those who eat animal products on a regular basis. Meat and high fat dairy products are much higher in calories than plant products. When you replace those high calorie items with lower calorie ones, you will lose weight and decrease your body fat percentage resulting in a more defined body.=
The Bottom Line
This study doesn't really give us any new information. We've known for a long time that foods high in saturated fats can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and fish will severly cut your risk for heart attacks, strokes and cancer. You don't need to give up meat to enjoy these health benefits, however you do need to enjoy them in moderation and in combination with a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of physical activity.