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Making red meat your friend: by Emily Greenfield

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Aging, Cancer Support, Cooking / Recipes, Diets, General Nutrition, Heart, Cardiovascular & Blood Health, Mens Health, Weight - Body Shape and Composition, Womens Health, Healthy Eating, Vegetarian Nutrition
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For all the omnivores out there, the headlines in the newspapers have not made pleasant reading lately.  Media all over the world has reported on the latest study conducted by researchers at Harvard University which suggests eating red meat is associated with a higher risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.

The study was a large one which looked at the diets and health of over 120,000 people for a period of up to 28 years. The researchers discovered that a regular consumption of red meat and processed meats was linked to a higher risk of dying early. Specifically the findings were as follows;

  • Consuming one serving (85 g) of unprocessed red meat per day was associated with a 13% increased risk of premature death
  • Consuming one serving of processed meat (e.g. two slices of bacon or one hot dog) per day was associated with a 20% risk of premature death
  • Approximately 8.5% of deaths could have been prevented if individuals in the study had consumed less than half a serve (42 g) of unprocessed red meat per day
  • Substituting other protein sources for red meat is associated with a lower risk of chronic disease.

Why might this be?

Well the researchers believe it may be to do with the presence of saturated fat and iron in the red meat and the high levels of sodium and nitrites* in processed meat. Cooking red meat at high temperatures can also create carcinogenic compounds in the process.

However, we have to remember there are drawbacks to every study. This was an observational study, which means the diet and health of participants was observed over a period of time. Information on diet was gleaned from self reported food diaries which are subject to error and the participants in the study were from the US (not Australia) who were more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI), eat less fruit and vegetables and have a higher overall energy intake. Because of the study design, this research can only suggest an association between red meat consumption and the risk of premature death, it does not prove that red meat consumption “kills”.

So what does this tell us? Red meat is not going to kill us if we eat it in moderation and monitor our portion sizes. It is very easy to underestimate how much meat you are eating so lets take a look at the cooked red meat content of common foods or meals;

  • A Big Mac has 70 g
  • A quarter pounder has 78 g
  • Three thin slices of lamb, beef or pork has 90 g
  • A steak weighing approximately 220 g has 163 g

It is not necessary to cut red meat out of the diet. Red meat is an important source of protein, iron and zinc. Remember that the findings show eating smaller amounts of red meat decreases the risk of mortality as does substituting red meat for other protein sources such as chicken, fish and legumes. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 to 4 serves of lean red meat per week, equating to around 195 to 400g of red meat per week, and eating processed meat only occasionally. This is much less than the amount of red meat linked with the risk of death in this study. So lets focus on watching our portion sizes, reducing our saturated fat and salt intake and consuming good cuts of lean red meat.


Nitrates

Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are preservatives found in lots of processed meats such as salami, hot dogs, pepperoni, ham and bacon. Fresh meats generally do not contain any added chemicals. These preservatives are used to inhibit the growth of deadly bacteria and to preserve the colour of the meat. While these preservatives are strongly linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, it is not clear how harmful these substances are in the quantities we get from meats.


Author: Emily Greenfield


Further reading

Huge study shows red meat boosts risk of dying young. 2012. Huge study shows red meat boosts risk of dying young. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/huge-study-shows-red-meat-boosts-risk-of-dying-young-20120313-1ux48.html#ixzz1pobs3Zre. [Accessed 22 March 2012].

Red Meat Can Be Unhealthy, Study Suggests: MedlinePlus. 2012. Red Meat Can Be Unhealthy, Study Suggests: MedlinePlus. [ONLINE]  [Accessed 22 March 2012]. 

Red meat and mortality | Dietitians Association of Australia. 2012. Red meat and mortality | Dietitians Association of Australia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://daa.asn.au/for-the-media/hot-topics-in-nutrition/red-meat-and-mortality/. [Accessed 22 March 2012]. 

Arch Intern Med -- Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies, March 12, 2012, Pan et al. 0 (2012): archinternmed.2011.2287v1. 2012. Arch Intern Med -- Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies, March 12, 2012, Pan et al. 0 (2012): archinternmed.2011.2287v1. [ONLINE] Available at: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/archinternmed.2011.2287. [Accessed 22 March 2012].  

Making red meat your friend: by Emily Greenfield