8 July 2019

Why red meat’s off the menu

Nutrition Research

Bad news for steak lovers.

The latest findings from two very large, well-known prospective cohort studies show that increasing your intake of red meat, even if it’s only by half a serving a day significantly increases your risk of death.

And the increased mortality risk is independent of how much red meat you were eating to start with, what other lifestyle factors you make at the same time you increase your red meat intake, or whether the meat is processed or unprocessed, although the association was stronger for processed meat, according to the research recently published in the BMJ.

The researchers were analysing data from Nurses’ Health Study (more than 53,000 women) and the Health Professionals Follow-up study (involving almost 28,000 men).

Both US studies included repeated measures of diet and lifestyle factors, so the study authors were able to determine that increases in red meat consumption of at least half a serving a day over eight years was associated with a 10% higher mortality risk over the next eight years.

The increase in death rates was generally related to cardiovascular disease or to neurodegenerative disease. It’s been known for some time that eating lots of red meat is not good for you, increasing your risk of chronic diseases and premature death.

What we haven’t known (until now) is what difference changing your consumption of red meat over time does to this increased health risk.

Interestingly, the analysis also found a decrease in red meat consumption was not associated with mortality.

But if the meat intake was replaced by a healthy alternative then your risk of dying prematurely is lowered.

“A decrease in total red meat consumption and a simultaneous increase in the consumption of nuts, fish, poultry without skin, dairy, eggs, whole grains, or vegetables over eight years was associated with a lower risk of death in the subsequent eight years,” they said.

So it really is yet another nail in the coffin for the traditional Australian high meat diet.

“Our analysis provides further evidence to support the replacement of red and processed meat consumption with healthy alternative food choices,” they concluded.

BMJ 2019; 365:l2110 doi:10.1136/bmj.l2110