Red and processed meat linked to higher mortality risk, study finds

Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Anna Hoychuk

Consumption of red and processed meat has been linked with slightly higher risk of heart disease and death, a major new study has found.

The findings from Northwestern Medicine and Cornell University follows a controversial study that recommended it was not necessary for people to change their diet where red and processed meat was concerned.

This latest study, which included 29,682 participants, found that eating two servings of red meat, processed meat or poultry – but not fish – per week was linked to a 3 to 7% higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Eating two servings of red meat or processed meat – but not poultry or fish – per week was associated with a 3% higher risk of all causes of death.

“It’s a small difference,” admitted senior study author Norrina Allen, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, “but it’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats.

“Red meat consumption also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”

Lead study author Victor Zhong, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell, who did the research when he was a postdoctoral fellow in Allen’s lab, added: “Modifying intake of these animal protein foods may be an important strategy to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death at a population level.”

Not okay to eat red meat?

The new findings come on the heels of a controversial meta-analysis published last November that recommended people not reduce the amount of red meat and processed meat they eat.

“Everyone interpreted that it was OK to eat red meat, but I don’t think that is what the science supports,” Allen said.

“Our study shows the link to cardiovascular disease and mortality was robust,” Zhong added.

The study found a positive association between poultry intake and cardiovascular disease, but the evidence so far isn’t sufficient to make a clear recommendation about poultry intake, Zhong said.

The paper was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.