Vegans and vegetarians, and probably quite a few cows, are rejoicing over the newest study released by the Harvard School of Public Health. The research shows a strong connection between any red meat consumption and an increased risk of ‘early mortality’.
Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the study, titled “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality” observed the diets and health of more than 100,000 men and women over the course of 28 years. The results found that nearly 6,000 of the almost 24,000 deaths during the study were related to cardiovascular disease and more than 9,000 from cancer, with regular consumption of red meat—especially processed and cured meats—linked to an increased risk of mortality. Just one serving size of meat per day (about the size of a human fist) showed a 13 percent rise in risk of mortality; and the daily consumption of processed meat (sausage, bacon, etc) showed a 20 percent risk increase.
Among the suspected causes are a number of factors associated with meat, and some long known health risks including saturated trans fats, which contribute to elevated cholesterol levels that can cause cardiovascular disease. Additional risk factors come by way of nitrites common in processed and cured meats, excess sodium, heme iron and carcinogens that become amplified during cooking.
Over the last several decades, cattle feed has come to include unnaturally high levels of antibiotics, growth hormones and genetically modified ingredients—all with known health risks—but the study did not assess those factors. And an interesting side note on the research, “Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers, to drink alcohol, and to have a higher body mass index,” indicating a possible connection between healthier eating habits (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc) and an ability or interest in more regular physical activity and exercise.
Commentary from best-selling author and healthy diet advocate Dr. Dean Ornish, MD was published along with the study making the important correlation between not just the damage red meat does for humans (and the animals involved), but also, the environment: “[L]ivestock use 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly for permanent pasture but also including 33% of global arable land to produce feed for them. As forests are cleared to create new pastures for livestock, it is a major driver of deforestation: some 70% of forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.”
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