By Luis Cabrera
We all know that red meat should be consumed in moderation, but in the real world out there, only a few of us follow strict guidelines. Is there a safe amount we can eat without any harmful side effects or long-term risks to our health? Recent results of a 20-year study suggest the answer is no.
The long-range investigation tracked the eating habits and health of 110,000 adults for over two decades, and the evidence against meat-eating habits was convincing. For example, those individuals who added a single 3-ounce portion of unprocessed red meat to their daily diet had a 13 percent higher chance of dying within the course of the study.
Furthermore, the risk of death for participants who enjoyed an extra daily portion of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, was associated with a 20 percent increase in mortality.
Numbers varied, but scientists also noticed a reduction in death risk when servings of pork or beef were substituted with nuts, fish, low-fat dairy or legumes. For example, people consuming more fish seemed to lower their risk by seven percent, a figure that rose to 10 percent for the ones preferring the legumes.
The lead author of the study, An Pan, holds a postdoctoral degree at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. From the raw data, Pan and his fellow researchers hypothesized that excessive consumption of red meat is probably related to a higher risk of death from any cause. This theory was backed by the sheer-number comparison in the study; mortality rate was much higher in general for those with the larger portions of red meat in their daily intake.
There have been scares involving processed meats in public health lately, such the “pink slime” controversy and other recent studies linking nitrites in bacon and ham to cancer risks. In their investigation, Pan concedes that they were expecting processed red meat products to be much worse than their raw, machine-free counterpart. However, the evidence suggests that both processed and unprocessed are bad for our health when consumed in excess.
Carol Kropowski is a professor of preventive medicine at USC who did not take part in the study, but he cautioned that it can be hard to jump to exact conclusions because some of the input offered by people may not be scientifically accurate. Kropowski pointed out to potential discrepancies and errors that could result from asking participants to fill out a questionnaire with detailed, daily food intake.
Still, Pan argues that all red meat is bad for us. “If you want to eat red meat,” he says, “eat the unprocessed products,” and, “reduce servings to two or three per week.”
Most of the study’s data came from people consuming at least one serving of red meat daily.
Lawrence Kushi, a cancer researcher with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research based in Oakland, California, said that studies like this show the bottom line for everyone when it comes to red meat consumption. “Basically,” Kushi offered, “the less you eat, the better.”