People who eat a lot of processed meats are more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease, cancer, and early death. Salt and chemicals used as preservatives may damage health, according to an article published in the journal BMC Medicine.
One of the challenges in researching the effect processed meat has on health is that there are so many other lifestyle factors involved. Vegetarians, for instance, tend to make healthier lifestyle choices in general. People who eat the most processed meat also tend to eat the fewest fruits and vegetables and are more likely to be smokers. Men who eat a lot of meat are also more likely to consume more alcohol.
This large-scale analysis included almost half a million men and women between the ages of 35 and 69 without prevalent cancer, stroke, or myocardial infarction. The subjects, from 10 European countries, were followed for an average of 13 years.
Of those studied, people who ate a lot of processed meat were also more likely to be obese, smoke, or make other lifestyle choices that can have a negative effect on health. The researchers found that even accounting for diet, smoking, physical activity, and body mass index, processed meat was shown to have a major impact on health.
BBC News reports that one of every 17 people in the study died, 10,000 from cancer and 5,500 due to heart problems. Of those, people who ate more than 160g of processed meat a day — that would be a couple of sausages and a slice of bacon — were 44 percent more likely to die than those who ate about 20g of processed meat a day.
Lead researcher Professor Sabine Rohrmann said, “Risks of dying earlier from cancer and cardiovascular disease also increased with the amount of processed meat eaten. Overall, we estimate that three percent of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20g processed meat per day.”
Study authors concluded, “The results of our analysis support a moderate positive association between processed meat consumption and mortality in particular due to cardiovascular diseases, but also cancer.”
A small amount of red meat appeared to be beneficial to health. The researchers think this may be because meat is a good source of vitamins and other nutrients. Eating poultry was not related to all-cause mortality.
Reference: BMC Medicine
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