Study: Red meat raises risk of dying, risk higher with processed meats

Posted at 6:39 AM, Mar 13, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-13 06:40:44-04

(CBS News) Eating a diet heavy in red meat has been tied to added risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It shouldn't be surprising then that a new study found eating red meat every day appears to increase a person's chances of dying from a chronic disease by 12 percent.

For the study, published online in the March 12 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, Harvard researchers analyzed data from two dietary studies that tracked nearly 37,700 men and 83,600 women for 28 years.

The researchers found overall that there were 23,900 deaths, including 5,900 from heart disease and nearly 9,500 from cancer. When the researchers looked closely at dietary habits, red meat took the cake when it came to raising death risk.

A daily serving of processed meat increased death risk by 20 percent, the study found, while a once-per-day serving of unprocessed red meat was tied to a 13 percent increase in overall mortality risk. According to the study authors, nearly 9 percent of deaths in men and 8 percent of deaths in women from the study could have been prevented if participants ate less than half a serving of red meat per day.

When it comes to red meat research, the findings are not in the carnivore's favor.

The study found replacing red meat with healthier alternatives reduced a person's risk of dying.

Replacing one serving of red meat with one serving of fish was tied to a 7 percent death risk reduction, with poultry the risk fell 14 percent, nuts 19 percent, legumes 10 percent, low-fat dairy products 10 percent or whole grains daily was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of dying.

Since meat is a big protein component of many Americans' diets, what can be done to reduce death risk?

A diet that contains little or no red meat and is high in "good carbs" - which include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and natural soy products - and low in "bad carbs" - such as simple and refined carbohydrates, sugars, white flour, and high fructose corn syrup, and high in "good fats" found in fish oil.

Experts suggest simply following the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new MyPlate nutrition icon, which offers dietary guidelines for healthy eating.