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Truth About Red Meat


Here’s a tasty steak. Is it good for you? This study may have some answers for you.

Okay. Here’s the latest skinny about eating red meat and processed meats and how it affects your risk of dying from cancer and/or heart disease. Cheery!

Below, you will find a rather comprehensive article about the newest research on this joyous topic conducted via the National Cancer Institute (not a particularly rinkydink organization).

The Not So Good News
You have at least a 20% to 50% higher risk of cancer or heart disease if you eat the equivalent of a red meat quarter pound hamburger per day. (We’re not talking about soyburgers, folks.)

Of course, there are always those who believe it’s not worth living anyway unless they can chow down on a steak a day, anyhoos. So be it.

The Not So Bad News
Processed meats were slightly less likely than the red stuff to increase your risk of dying from cancer or heart attack. Oscar Meyer should be relieved and proud.

Must be all those helpful preservatives, organ meats and veggie fillers. Right? : )

The research did not include those who were vegetarians. That would be another interesting study. 

For some unknown reason, it would probably just so happen to be that a diet of veggies only might have even lower rates of dying from cancer and heart disease than eating meat.


Because nobody said life is fair! : )

SUMMARY: Red and processed meat intakes were associated with moderate increases in total mortality, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality.

High intakes of red or processed meat may increase the risk of mortality. The objective was to determine the relations of red, white, and processed meat intakes to risk for total and cause-specific mortality among
The researchers followed  more than 545,000 people who were AARP members, aged 50 to 71 years old, for 10 years. Over 70,000 people died during that period of time.

Study subjects were recruited from AARP members, a group that’s healthier than other similarly aged Americans. That means the findings may not apply to all groups, Sinha said. The study relied on people’s memory of what they ate, which can be faulty.

Men and women in the highest vs lowest 20% of red and processed meat intakes had elevated risks for overall mortality. Regarding cause-specific mortality, men and women had elevated risks for cancer mortality for red and processed meat intakes.

Furthermore, cardiovascular disease risk was elevated for men and women in the highest 20% of red and processed meat  intakes. When comparing the highest with the lowest 20% of white meat intake, there was an inverse association for total mortality and cancer mortality, as well as all other deaths for both men and women.

In the final analysis, results took into account factors such as smoking, family history of cancer and body weight.

Conclusion: Red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality.

Rashmi Sinha is an investigator in the Nutrition Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, at the National Cancer Institute. Research interests include the role of meat, heterocyclic aromatic amines, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in cancer etiology, as well as the interaction of genetic susceptibility and nutrition in cancer. Other interests include vitamins A, C and E and cancer, DDT and breast cancer, and development of biomarkers of diet. Sinha’s honors include the National Institute of Health Award of Merit and the Technology Transfer Award. Sinha is associate editor of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, is a reviewer for numerous journals, and has served on a variety of professional committees and boards.

In other words, eating around a quarter pound of red meat daily had a 22 percent higher risk of dying from cancer and a 27 percent higher rate of dying from heart disease than those who ate less than 5 ounces of red meat per week.

Women had a 20 percent higher risk of dying from cancer and 50 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than those women who ate small amounts.

As for processed meats, the rates of dying from cancer and heart disease were only slightly lower than red meat.

The lowest rates of increased death due to cancer and heart disease were among those who ate white meat and fish.

“11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women could have been prevented if they had decreased their meat consumption to the equivalent of a quarter of a small hamburger a day. The chance of men dying of cardiovascular disease would have decreased 11 percent – and 21 percent for women.”

Additional Meat Consumption Information:
Diets containing substantial amounts of red or preserved meats may increase the risk of various cancers. This association may be due to a combination of factors, such as content of fat, protein, and iron, and/or meat preparation (e.g. cooking or preserving methods).

Laboratory results have shown that meats cooked at high temperatures contain heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are mutagenic and carcinogenic in animals. To investigate the role of these compounds we have created separate databases for mutagenic activity,

HCAs, and PAHs, which we have used in conjunction with a validated meat-cooking food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). The role of meat type, cooking methods, doneness levels, and meat-cooking mutagens has been examined in both case-control studies and prospective cohort studies.

The results from these studies are mixed for different sub-types of meat, cooking methods, and doneness levels, as well as for estimated intakes of mutagenic activity, HCA, and PAHs.

An additional role of red meat in colon cancer could be through the contribution to N-nitroso compound (NOC) exposure.

Humans can be exposed to NOCs by exogenous (produced outside the body ) routes (from processed meats in particular) and by endogenous (produced within the body) routes.

Endogenous exposure to NOCs has been shown to be dose-dependently related to the amount of red meat in the diet. Recent work suggests that heme iron in red meat may explain the high levels of endogenous NOC, levels equivalent to those found in cigarette smoke.


First Study:

A 124-item food frequency questionnaire ( ) was completed at baseline.

The food frequency questionnaire collected information on the usual consumption of foods and drinks and portion sizes over the last 12 months.

The validity of the food frequency questionnaire was estimated using two 24-hour recalls,8 and the estimated energy-adjusted correlations ranged from 0.36 to 0.76 for various nutrients and attenuation factors ranged from 0.24 to 0.68.

Red meat intake was calculated using the frequency of consumption and portion size information of all types of beef and pork and included bacon, beef, cold cuts, ham, hamburger, hotdogs, liver, pork, sausage, steak, and meats in foods such as pizza, chili, lasagna, and stew.

White meat included chicken, turkey, and fish and included poultry cold cuts, chicken mixtures, canned tuna, and low-fat sausages and low-fat hotdogs made from poultry.

Processed meat included bacon, red meat sausage, poultry sausage, luncheon meats (red and white meat), cold cuts (red and white meat), ham, regular hotdogs and low-fat hotdogs made from poultry.

The components constituting red or white and processed meats can overlap because both can include meats such as bacon, sausage, and ham, while processed meat can also included smoked turkey and chicken.

During 10 years of follow-up, there were 47,976 male deaths and 23,276 female deaths.

In general, those in the highest quintile of red meat intake tended to consume a slightly lower amount of white meat but a higher amount of processed meat compared with those in the lowest 20%.

Subjects who consumed more red meat tended to be married, more likely of non-Hispanic white ethnicity, more likely a current smoker, have a higher body mass index, and have a higher daily intake of energy, total fat, and saturated fat, and they tended to have lower education and physical activity levels and lower fruit, vegetable, fiber, and vitamin supplement intakes.


Eating More Red And Processed Meats Linked To Greater Risk For Bowel And Lung Cancer, Findings Suggest (Dec. 11, 2007) — New findings provide evidence that people who eat a lot of red and processed meats have greater risk of developing bowel and lung cancer than people who eat small quantities. The research by Amanda …  > read more
Red Meat Linked To Breast Cancer (Apr. 8, 2007) — Eating red meat increases a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer, according to new research from the University of …  > read more
Long-term High Consumption Of Red And Processed Meat Linked With Increased Risk For Colon Cancer (Jan. 13, 2005) — High consumption of red and processed meat over a long period of time is associated with an increased risk for a certain type of colon cancer, according to a study in the January 12 issue of …  > read more
Eating Red Meat Will Not Increase Colorectal Cancer Risk, Study Suggests (June 13, 2007) — Recent studies published in the journal Cancer Science have disproved the common myth that consumption of red meat increases colorectal cancer risk. The study also found that consumption of fish and …  > read more
Moooooove Over, Chicken! — Study Shows Lean Red Meat Can Play A Role In Low-Fat Diet (July 2, 1999) — For years, physicians have avoided red meat when designing heart-healthy diets for their patients. Turns out that’s a bum steer, according to a study published in the June 28 issue of the …  > read more

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