A very large ten-year study of 322,263 men and 223,390 women ages 50 to 71 conducted by the National Cancer Institute has provided disturbing data. By keeping track of the timing and causes of deaths and correlating them with a number of lifestyle factors it was possible to conclude that eating high levels of red meat is harmful, regardless of other lifestyle factors.
The study found that red meat consumption ranged from a low of less than an ounce a day, on average, to a high of four ounces a day, and processed meat consumption ranged from as little as once a week to an average of one and a half ounces a day. The increased risk of death from any cause ranged from about 20 percent to 30 percent. In fact, those who consumed only about four ounces of red meat a day (the equivalent of about a small hamburger) were more than 30 percent more likely to die during the 10 years they were followed. All this translates during a ten year period to preventable deaths of one million men and perhaps half a million women in the US. All it takes to live longer is eating much less red and processed meats, including pork.
Think about that. About 150,000 people dying each year because of excessive consumption of red and processed meats, more than three times as many deaths from automobile accidents. It is also more than deaths from stroke, twice the deaths from diabetes, and more than twice those from influenza/pneumonia yearly.
If you want to avoid dying prematurely because of excessive eating of red meat, with unhealthy levels of bad fat, then it was advised that people should eat a hamburger only once or twice a week instead of every day, a small steak once a week instead of every other day, and a hot dog every month and a half instead of once a week. Better yet, replace red and processed meats with fish and poultry to live longer, according to the study. It also found that people eating the most fruits and vegetables lived longer.
The new findings are consistent with a number of earlier studies.
In one study, men who consumed two servings of fatty fish a week were found to have a 50 percent lower risk of cardiac deaths. In another one, women who ate fish and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least once a week cut their coronary risk by more than 20 percent.
A European study found that those who ate the least fish had a 40 percent greater risk of developing colon cancer than those who ate more than 1.75 ounces of fish a day.
For men concerned about prostate cancer, a study found that a diet high in red meat was linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer and those who consumed at least three servings of fish a week had half the risk of advanced prostate cancer compared with men who rarely ate fish.
For women concerned about ovarian cancer, a study randomly assigned more than 19,500 women to a low-fat diet, and found after eight years a 40 percent reduced risk of ovarian cancer among them, when compared with 29,000 women who ate their regular diets.
The new results support the recommendations by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund to reduce red and processed meat intake to decrease cancer incidence.
The best advice for dealing with red and processed meats is to think of eating them as special occasion treats or celebrations rather then a regular part of your diet. Just as so many millions of people learned to give up cigarettes, even more must learn to break their red meat habit and addiction. In these tough economic times minimizing red meat consumption also makes financial sense, especially if it is combined with regular physical activity. Both practices can help prevent the need for prescription medicines.
Americans are spending over $70 billion yearly on prescription drugs to lower cholesterol, reduce weight, manage diabetes, and treat cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure. Are hamburgers, steaks and hot dogs worth their health costs? The price of meat is much higher than it first appears.
The best regular source of protein is fish, which has healthy omega oils, followed by low fat poultry. As to children, if parents really love them, then they will make sure that they do not develop the habit of eating red and processed meats all the time, either at home or in restaurants and school. Protection through prevention demands this.
The lesson for all of us can fit on a bumper sticker: RED MEAT KILLS.