Eating small amounts of processed and red meat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and death

An image of red meat
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Eating small amounts of processed or red meat increases the risk of death from all causes, especially cardiovascular diseases, according to a new study.

Loma Linda University School of Public Health, aimed to fill the research gap in studies about red meat intake. Previously studies have compared relatively higher levels of red meat consumption with low intakes.

Saeed Mastour Alshahrani, lead author of the study and a doctoral student, said: “A question about the effect of lower levels of intakes compared to no-meat eating remained unanswered. We wanted to take a closer look at the association of low intakes of red and processed meat with all-cause, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer mortality compared to those who didn’t eat meat at all.”

Studying vegetarians and people with a low meat consumption

The study is titled  “Red and Processed Meat and Mortality in a Low Meat Intake Population”, and is part of a prospective cohort study of approximately 96,000 Seventh-day Adventist men and women in the United States and Canada. Adventists are a religious population, of which approximately 50 percent are vegetarians, and those who consume meat do so at low levels. Of those who consumed meat, 90 percent of them only ate around two ounces or less of red meat per day. This group allowed researchers to compare a zero intake of processed and red meat compared to a low intake in a large setting.

The increased risk of death and cardiovascular diseases

Processed meat (modified by curing, smoking, or salting, such as ham and salami) alone was not significantly associated with the risk of mortality. This is possibly due to a very small proportion of the population consuming processed meat. However, the total intake of red and processed meat was associated with relatively higher total deaths and cardiovascular disease deaths.

Almost 2,600 of the reported deaths were caused by cardiovascular disease, and over 1,800 were from cancer.

Michael Orlich, MD, PhD, co-director of AHS-2 and co-author of the study, said: “Our findings give additional weight to the evidence already suggesting that eating red and processed meat may negatively impact health and lifespan.”

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