Just 5 ounces of processed meat linked to cardiovascular disease and death

HAMILTON, Ontario — Red meat tends to get a bad reputation for clogging the arteries and causing disease in carnivores. However, a new study finds it’s actually processed meat consumers need to worry about. An international team finds eating just five ounces of processed meat a week can significantly raise your risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

On the other hand, researchers at McMaster University say unprocessed red meat and poultry do not cause the same issues. The findings come from a study of over 134,000 people across 21 countries on five different continents.

Study authors tracked each person’s diet and health, focusing on meat consumption and cardiovascular illnesses, for nearly 10 years. The results reveal consuming at least 150 grams of processed meat (5.3 ounces) each week has a link to a 46-percent increase in the risk for developing heart disease. The risk of death also skyrocketed by 51 percent in comparison those not eating processed meat.

These products include meats that producers preserve through curing, salting, smoking, drying, or canning. The most common varieties of processed meat include bacon, sausages, hot dogs, and salamis. Contrary to popular belief, the results showed eating unprocessed red meat had a neutral impact on heart health.

“Evidence of an association between meat intake and cardiovascular disease is inconsistent,” says study first author Romaina Iqbal from Aga Khan University in a release.

“We therefore wanted to better understand the associations between intakes of unprocessed red meat, poultry, and processed meat with major cardiovascular disease events and mortality.”

McMaster’s Mahshid Dehghan adds, overall, the study finds eating unprocessed meat can be a healthy part of a well-balanced diet. These meats, eaten in moderation, are unlikely to cause harm or increase risk of death.

Finding healthy alternatives to meat

The international results are all part of the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study which began in 2003. It’s the first multinational report that studies both processed and unprocessed meat and their link to health across countries of all income levels.

“The PURE study examines substantially more diverse populations and broad patterns of diet, enabling us to provide new evidence that distinguishes between the effects of processed and unprocessed meats,” explains senior author Salim Yusuf, executive director of McMaster’s Population Health Research Institute.

The 134,297 participants had their dieting habits recorded using food frequency questionnaires. Researchers also monitored data on their history of cardiovascular disease events and mortality over that time.

Researchers note it’s still unclear how meat alternatives may affect health in participants with lower meat consumption scores. The team says further studies should examine the qualities of these foods and how they differ between countries.

Regardless, researchers believe their results “indicate that limiting the intake of processed meat should be encouraged.”

The study appears in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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