How often do you eat a hamburger or a steak? How about a ham sandwich? According to a federal study of over half a million men and women, the answers are crucial. As early as the 1970s, people began to realize that consuming large quantities of red meat may not be beneficial to health.
After decades of research, this assumption has not changed. In addition, nutrition pros recommend that we limit processed meat like cold cuts due to excess sodium and chemicals like nitrites. Thanks to the enlightening new study, we have quantified the risks associated with eating red and processed meat. Don’t miss out on this vital information.
Can Eating Meat Kill You?
Think back over your meals for the last week. Did you grab a burger for lunch more than once? Did you throw some steaks on the grill or even snack on a pepperoni pizza? We now know that people who consume the most red and processed meat in their diets run a significantly higher overall risk of dying compared to those who consume the least. Specifically, death due to cancer and heart disease increased for those who ate the most meat.
The study followed over half a million men and women, ages 51 to 70, for 10 years. During that period, about 70,000 people died. Scientists examined their eating habits and determined the following information: Men who ate the most meat had a 22% higher risk of dying from cancer and a 27% higher risk of dying from heart disease. Women had a 20% higher risk of cancer death and a stunning 50% higher risk of death due to heart disease.
Let’s take a look at the amount of red and processed meat that can harm your health. After analyzing the dietary information provided by the study participants, researchers found that those who ate the most red meat consumed about 4.5 ounces per day on average—or the equivalent of a quarter-pound hamburger. Those who ate the least totaled just over half an ounce per day on average. The most processed meat consumed was about 1.5 ounces per day (about 2 deli turkey slices) and the least was just 0.11 ounces.
What This Means for Your Diet
The facts I outlined above are rather sobering. I suspect that many of you will take a closer look at our eating habits and modify your intake of red and processed meats. The good news is that it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first. I put together some tips for my patients to help them fine tune their diets to promote a longer, healthier life. Try them for yourself.
1) Get protein the healthy way – The same study showed that white meat may have a protective effect: Those who ate the most fresh turkey, chicken and fish had slightly lower risk of cancer death and death overall.
2) Make red meat a supporting player – I’m not encouraging meat lovers to become vegetarians. Lean red meat is a good source of iron and other nutrients. Simply increase your intake of produce, legumes and grains and reduce your red meat consumption. Have a small steak fillet once per week or make dishes like stir-fry and salads with half beef and half beans or tofu, rather than all beef.
3) Cut processed meats – The occasional sausage sandwich is probably okay, but these foods have few redeeming qualities, so make them occasional treats. Instead of deli ham or turkey, grill chicken breasts or roast a large turkey breast on the weekend to use for sandwiches all week. Try a chicken pizza instead of the usual “meat lovers” varieties.
4) Stay out of the drive-thru lane – Many people don’t realize how much fast food they are consuming. Pack your lunches or visit salad bars and delis that stock more natural foods. If you’re stuck at the pick up window, opt for grilled chicken sandwiches and salads.
5) Don’t stress – If you realize that red and processed meat is a big part of your diet, don’t worry about revamping your menu overnight. Making one small change at a time means you’re more likely to stick with your new healthy habits. For example, replace 2 beef meals with fish or chicken for a week, then increase it to 3 and 4 meals each subsequent week. Next month, replace your cold cut sandwiches with canned tuna or bean burritos.
When healthy changes become second nature, you can feel good about a diet that’s helping you live longer and stay disease free.
Photo Credit: Maggie Smith