Reduce Red Meat Intake for a Longer Life
Posted Nov 4, 2012
Americans are obsessed with what they eat. In a nation where talk about nutrition and weight-related health problems is an everyday event, debate about what is and what is not a healthy diet is increasingly commonplace. A new study that directly ties the consumption of red meat to the risk of dying at an early age is sure to enliven that already animated discussion.
The alarming report published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is based on a long-term study that tracked the eating and lifestyle habits and health outcomes of more than 110,000 adults, for more than two decades. When the data collected was analyzed by An Pan, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, and his colleagues, it indicated that the risk of dying at an early age rises in tandem with the consumption of red meat. More importantly, the study allowed researchers to quantify the risks.
Pan and his associates found that eating an additional single serving portion of meat -- defined as 3 ounces of unprocessed red meat or a steak about the size of a deck of playing cards, far smaller than the standard American portion -- contributed to a 13 percent increased risk of dying. Even more dire, an extra daily serving of processed red meat -- a hot dog or a couple of slices of bacon -- was tied to a 20 percent higher risk of dying during the course of the study. That's enough to get anybody's attention.
Indeed, it's not the first time that consumption of red meat has been associated with poor health. Previous studies have tied eating red meat to higher incidences of diabetes, cardiac disease and cancer -- all of which can be fatal. The new study, however, was the first to estimate the effect of reducing red meat intake with an increased lifespan. Those findings are instructive.
Researchers said that eating one serving of nuts instead of beef or pork per day was associated with a 19 percent lower risk of dying during the study. Substituting poultry or whole grains led to a 14 percent reduction in mortality risk; low-fat dairy or legumes, 10 percent; and fish, 7 percent. The study results pose a challenge to most Americans.
On average, Americans eat more than 65 pounds of pork and beef, respectively, annually. Changing that habit will be difficult. Moreover, not everyone is convinced the Harvard study is sound. The meat industry, of course, and some others question the methodology of the study, which relies heavily on self-reporting rather than strictly controlled research. That may be so.
Still, the red meat study is another reminder that one's health and longevity is linked to diet. One thing to take from the report is the need for dietary moderation and balance. Even the author of the study doesn't advocate giving up red meat altogether. "Our message is to reduce red meat consumption to less than two or three servings a week," says Pan. That's a manageable goal, and one that if achieved could lead to an immeasurably improved state of health for Americans of all ages.
©2012 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
Visit the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) at www.timesfreepress.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services