I talked in yesterday’s introductory article to this series on meat eating that a diet that includes a high consumption of meat is not one that will allow you to be healthy or help you live a Low Density Lifestyle.
One of the largest studies ever conducted in the U.S. on the disastrous health effects of a diet high in red meat was published in the spring of 2009.
The study found that men and women who consumed the most red and processed meat were likely to die sooner, especially from one of the two leading causes of death, heart disease and cancer, than people who consumed much smaller amounts of these foods.
The study was directed by the government agency, The National Cancer Institute, and involved 322,263 men and 223,390 women ages 50 to 71.
During the decade, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died, and the researchers kept track of the timing and reasons for each death. 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 at most once a week to an average of one and a half ounces a day.
The increase in mortality risk tied to the higher levels of meat consumption was described as “modest,” ranging from about 20 percent to nearly 40 percent. But the number of excess deaths that could be attributed to high meat consumption is quite large given the size of the American population.
Extrapolated to all Americans in the age group studied, the new findings suggest that over the course of a decade, the deaths of one million men and perhaps half a million women could be prevented just by eating less red and processed meats, according to estimates prepared by Dr. Barry Popkin, who wrote an editorial accompanying the report.
To prevent premature deaths related to red and processed meats, Dr. Popkin suggested in an interview 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.
In place of red meat, nonvegetarians might consider poultry and fish. In the study, the largest consumers of “white” meat from poultry and fish had a slight survival advantage. Likewise, those who ate the most fruits and vegetables also tended to live longer.
The results mirror those of several other studies in recent years that have linked a high-meat diet to life-threatening health problems. The earliest studies highlighted the connection between the saturated fats in red meats to higher blood levels of artery-damaging cholesterol and subsequent heart disease, which prompted many people to eat leaner meats and more skinless poultry and fish. Along with other dietary changes, like consuming less dairy fat, this resulted in a nationwide drop in average serum cholesterol levels and contributed to a reduction in coronary death rates.
Elevated blood pressure, another coronary risk factor, has also been shown to be associated with eating more red and processed meat, the researchers reported.
Poultry and fish contain less saturated fat than red meat, and fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked in several large studies to heart benefits. For example, men who consume two servings of fatty fish a week were found to have a 50 percent lower risk of cardiac deaths, and in another study of 84,688 women, those 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.
Choosing protein from sources other than meat has also been linked to lower rates of cancer. When meat is cooked, especially grilled or broiled at high temperatures, carcinogens can form on the surface of the meat. And processed meats like sausages, salami and bologna usually contain nitrosamines, although there are products now available that are free of these carcinogens.
Also, a diet high in red meat was linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer in a study of 35,534 men; the study also found that 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.
Another study, which randomly assigned more than 19,500 women to a low-fat diet, 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.