Death link to too much red meat

Scientists have produced new evidence suggesting eating lots of red and processed meat damages health.

They found big meat eaters had a raised risk of death from all causes over a 10-year period.

In contrast, a higher intake of white meat was associated with a slightly reduced risk of death over the same period.

The US study, featured in Archives of Internal Medicine, was based on more than 500,000 people.

The researchers, from The US National Cancer Institute, found those whose diet contained the highest proportion of red or processed meat had a higher overall risk of death, and specifically a higher risk of cancer and heart disease than those who ate the least.

People eating the most meat were eating about 160g of red or processed meat per day - approximately a 6oz steak.

Those who ate the least were only getting about 25g per day - approximately a small rasher of bacon.

Conversely, those who ate the highest proportion of white meat had a lower risk of overall death, and a lower risk of fatal cancer or heart disease than those who ate the lowest proportion.

The researchers calculated that 11% of deaths in men and 16% of deaths in women during the study period could have been prevented if people had decreased their red meat consumption to the level of those in the lowest intake group.

Cancer compounds

The researchers said cancer-causing compounds were formed during high-temperature cooking of meat.

Meat is a major source of saturated fat, which has been associated with breast and colorectal cancer.

In addition, lower meat intake has been linked to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The latest study adds to a growing body of research linking high red and processed meat consumption to an increased risk of ill health.

Recent UK research found one in ten people has tried to cut down on processed meats, such as bacon, in the wake of previous reports linking them to cancer.

Writing in the same journal, Dr Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, stressed there were health benefits to eating some red meat.

But he added: "The need is for a major reduction in total meat intake, an even larger reduction in processed meat and other highly processed and salted animal source food products and a reduction in total saturated fat."

Dr Mark Wahlqvist, a nutrition expert from Australia's Monash University, said eating small amounts of red meat - around 30g a day - provided a good source of key nutrients.

He said: "Fresh, lean red meat of these amounts is likely to be of more benefit than harm."

Ed Yong, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said two large studies had now linked eating lots of red or processed meat to some cancers.

"No one's saying that people should avoid bacon or burgers completely, but evidence from large studies like this tells us that cutting down on these foods can reduce the risk of dying from cancer and other diseases."