New US research has found that eating even small amounts of red and processed meat could increase an individual’s risk of death, compared to eating no meat at all.
Carried out by researchers at Loma Linda University Health in California, the new study looked at 72,149 participants taking part in the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2), a large cohort study of Seventh-day Adventist men and women in the United States and Canada.
As around 50% of Adventists are vegetarians, and those who do eat meat only eat small amounts, using this cohort allowed the researchers to investigate the effect of a low level intake of red and processed meat compared to eating no meat in a large setting.
“A question about the effect of lower levels of intakes compared to no-meat eating remained unanswered,” explains Saeed Mastour Alshahrani, lead author of the study. “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.”
The researchers assessed the participants’ diet using a food frequency questionnaire, and collected data on mortality from the National Death Index.
Of the participants who did eat meat, 90% of them only ate about two ounces or less of red meat per day.
The findings, published in the journal Nutrients, showed that during an average follow-up of 11.8 years, there were 7,961 total deaths, of which 2,598 were due to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and 1,873 were due to cancer.
In addition, the team also found that eating relatively low levels of red and processed meat was associated with a moderately increased risk of death from all causes and from CVD, compared to zero intake.
However, eating processed meat on its own, which is meat that has been modified to improve flavor through curing, smoking, or salting, was not significantly associated with risk of mortality, possibly due to the small proportion of participants in this study who consumed this kind of meat.
The researchers say the new study suggests that eating red and processed meats, even in small amounts, may increase the risk of death from all causes, and especially from cardiovascular disease.
Co-author Michael Orlich, MD, PhD, also commented that the findings support the growing body of research which suggests that red and processed meats can have a negative effect on health.
“Our findings give additional weight to the evidence already suggesting that eating red and processed meat may negatively impact health and lifespan,” he said.