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red meat mortality risk

Eating too much red meat raises your risk of dying from heart disease

Red meat is back in the news again this week of March 12th 2012, with the worrying results of a new study from the United States into it’s effects on our health, when other factors are removed from the equation.

And it’s not just heart disease that this affects but bowel cancer, as well – which is the second most common form of fatal cancer in the United Kingdom.


A very large study indicates too much meat is bad for your mortality, not just your general health


Unlike previous scientific research into the effects of meat consumption on human health, this study looked at the mortality risk, not just the effects on health alone.

Also, this research, carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, involved a massive group of people – numbering more than one hundred and twenty thousand folks – so it’s findings are more likely to be accurate with such a large amount of data available.

It sounds pretty obvious but the science behind it seems to be irrefutable – if you reduce the amount of red meat in your overall diet, you can get real tangible beneficial improvements to your heart health.


How much red meat is too much red meat ?


There’s a couple of instant questions that pop up in my mind at this point :-

1. How much red meat is too much red meat ? per day ? per week ?

2. Are some types of meat better or worse than others for your health ?

The answer to these questions lies in the published results of the Harvard research, and it’s probably easiest to just bullet point the main findings :-

  • Eat no more than 70 grams (approx 2.5 ounces) per day, or 490 grams per week (approx 17.5 ounces)
  • This equates to a WEEKLY amount of 3 sausage links, one small steak, one quarter pound burger and a couple of slices of roast beef or lamb
  • Processed and cured meats appear to be more harmful than freshly cooked meat. If you eat two strips of bacon per day you are 20% more likely to die from heart disease or cancer than if you don’t. Ouch.


Replace Red Meat Dishes with Fish, Chicken or Nuts


One strange statistic that came from the Harvard research is that by replacing a single weekly meat meal with a fish dish, you can improve your chances of staying alive by 7%, but if you replace the same same weekly meat meal with a chicken dish, this rises to an amazing 13%. I would have thought that the fish dish would have more of an improvement in health benefit than the chicken dish, but apparently not so!

As usual with these kinds of studies, there is a response from a meat industry representative who argues that the study is either wrong, biased or inconclusive. In this case the spokesperson claimed that it was not necessarily just the red meat that was responsible for the increased death rates. Also it is claimed that the average United Kingdom meat intake is already less than 70 grams per day.

However, it is difficult to argue against fact. Here’s the staggering overall conclusion – during the long term length of the study well over twenty thousand of the volunteers died, but up to two thousand of these people may have died unnecessarily, just because of the amount of red meat that they ate.