The craving for meat can be difficult for some to resist, but research shows it’s a smarter choice to avoid it. Studies are increasingly linking red meat consumption to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart problems, and certain cancers. Recent research shows a single daily serving of processed or unprocessed red meat (i.e. a couple slices of bacon, a hotdog, or an iPhone-size hamburger) could boost your risk of dying before your time, especially from diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Red meat contains lots of saturated fat, heme iron, sodium, nitrites, and certain carcinogens that form during cooking (Archives of Internal Medicine study). Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed almost 30 years of data on more than 120,000 adults. They discovered the dangers were more pronounced for processed products (i.e. salami) than for unprocessed meat. A daily dose of processed red meat was linked with a 20% increased risk of death - compared to 13% for unprocessed meat.
Cutting back overall can help maintain health without completely giving up burgers, ribs, and the like. "The overall message is to try to reduce red meat intake, and for a lot of people it might be very difficult. But maybe they could limit it to 2 or 3 servings per week. We think that's reasonable," says An Pan, a Harvard research fellow and the study's lead author.
The study concluded that replacing one daily serving of red meat with healthier protein (fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains) appears to further lower the risks: 7% for fish and 14% for poultry. "Diets that have fish in them tend to [pose] a lower risk of heart disease and stroke and some of these other chronic diseases," says Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
So when you shop for your meals at home or you’re considering what to choose on the menu at your favorite restaurant, remember red meat is OK to eat once in a while, but it's smart to replace it with other healthier protein choices. Following this simple rule may help you live a longer, healthier life.