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Eating Less Red Meat Can Prolong Life


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

People who consume red and processed meat in higher amounts, are at an increased risk of a premature death, reports a large federal new study, providing a strong evidence that burgers, steaks and pork chops are very dangerous for health.

The researchers, from The US National Cancer Institute, based their findings on evaluation of more than 500,000 American men and women who took part in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. The age of the participants by the time when the study began, in 1995, was between 50 and 71 years. All of them were asked to fill in corresponding questionnaires to describe the habits of their food intake.

The adults then have been followed for 10 years by the experts, who used the Social Security Administration's databases in order to track causes of mortality. During the follow-up period, it was found that nearly 48,000 men and more than 23,000 women passed away. After this, the researchers divided all the study participants into 5 groups, depending on how much red and processed meat had been consumed on a daily basis.

Red meat included beef, pork, bacon, ham, hamburger, hot dogs, liver, pork sausage, steak, as well as meats in foods such as pizza, stews, and lasagna. White meat was turkey, fish, chicken, chicken mixtures, and other poultry. And finally, processed meat included either white or red meat that was cured, dried, or smoked, such as bacon, chicken sausage, lunch meats, and cold cuts.

The results revealed that individuals who consumed the most red meat and the most processed meat on a daily basis, were 31 per cent more likely to die in the following 10 years, mostly from heart disease and cancer, compared to those who consumed the least of both. People who ate the most red meat were eating about 4.5 ounces per day (some consumed more, some consumed less), based on an average 2,000-calorie a day diet. Those in the lowest intake group consumed a little more than a half-ounce per day. Individuals who ate processed meat the most, consumed nearly 1.5 ounces per day, which is about 2 slices of deli turkey, compared to just 0.11 ounces for those in the lowest intake group.

The study found that male participants in the group with the highest intake of red meat, had more than a 30 per cent overall risk of dying, compared to men in the group with the lowest red meat consumption. As to women, those who consumed red meat in higher amounts, were 50 per cent more likely to die from heart-related problems. In other words, 11 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women could have prevented deadly outcomes if they cut their intake of red meat. As to the highest intakes of processed meat, they were associated with a 16 per cent overall increased risk of mortality in male, and 25 per cent increased risk in female.

The risk for developing cancer, was nearly 20 per cent higher in individuals who were consuming the most red meat, and 10 per cent higher in people who were mostly eating processed meats. In contrast, the intake of chicken, fish, turkey and other poultry, was protective in many cases, with those eating the most having a slightly decreased risk for overall and cancer-related deaths.

The experts say that they are not quite sure yet as to why exactly red and processed meat are associated with increased risks of cancer, heart disease and other deaths. The main two reasons that are known as of today include: 1. the meats are a source of carcinogens that appear in the process of cooking; 2) the iron in red meat may cause oxidative cell damage, leading to health problems. The saturated fat that is present in meat has been linked with breast and colorectal cancer.

The researchers concluded that their message to people is not to completely avoid eating burgers or ham, just cutting down on these meals could significantly reduce the risk of dying from cancer and heart problems.

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