Want to Live Longer? Eat Less Red Meat.

A study published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that eating too much red meat can shorten your lifespan. Now, red meat has had a bad reputation for a while (blame its saturated fat and cholesterol content, which link it to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer). But this is the first study to quantify just how many years you could add to your life if you cut down on your red meat consumption—especially processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, and bologna. Starting with a baseline of half a serving of red meat per day (or, on average, two to three servings a week), the study’s authors found that for every additional serving per day of red meat you eat, your risk of dying increases 13%, and for every serving of processed red meat, your risk goes up 20%. (Researchers suspect that it’s the sodium and nitrites in processed meats that make them more harmful—sodium raises blood pressure, and nitrites can lead to blood vessel problems and interfere with your body’s ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar.) Correspondingly, if you replace that extra serving of red meat with a serving of healthier foods like fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains, you can lower your risk of dying by 7 to 19%. Wow—that’s pretty dramatic!
All this is not to say that red meat can’t be part of a healthful diet. Lean, unprocessed red meats provide valuable nutrients including protein, iron, and several vitamins and minerals. But this study is definitely a good reminder to limit your consumption to two or three times a week (or less) and to keep your portions small. Also, read labels on processed meats—we have been able to find bacon that is made without nitrates at our local grocery store, at Trader Joe’s, and at Whole Foods. These stores might also carry nitrate-free versions of other processed red meats (although they’re all still likely high in sodium). And for some great meat-free recipes, check out my meatless meals post from earlier this year.
Posted in blood pressure, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, eating well, insulin, nitrites, processed foods, red meat, sodium

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