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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Too much red meat can increase mortality rate

Joe Marchilena

Sometimes things are so obvious that we forget them. If you’ve ever lost your sunglasses on the top of your head, you know what I’m talking about.

A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health, published online last week in Archives of Internal Medicine, reveals that red meat consumption is linked to “an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality.”

The same study also showed that replacing red meat with other sources of protein, “such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes,” would reduce the risk of mortality.

To which I say, we really needed another study to tell us that? Isn’t that what our doctors and personal trainers and nutritionists and the Lipitor ads during sporting events have been telling us for years and year and years? Like I said, sometimes it’s good to get a gentle reminder.

According to the HSPH, the study further confirmed the notion that high consumption of red meat can lead to health problems, including type two diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

What’s a little worrisome about these new results is how small the amount of regularly consumed red meat, or processed meat, contributed to health problems.

Having one serving of unprocessed red meat a day – about the size of a deck of cards, the study said – increased the risk of death by 13 percent, and the same serving of processed meat – the equivalent of a hot dog or two slices of bacon – increased the risk by 20 percent.

Does that mean you should stop eating hot dogs? If you have one or more every day, then you probably should. But every once in a while is apparently less likely to kill you.

So what was the best source of replacement protein? Nuts, followed by poultry and whole grains.

Researchers estimated that death could have been prevented in almost 10 percent of men and almost eight of women if all the participants had consumed under a half serving of red meat a day.

“This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death,” Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH, said in a press release. “On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality.”

So I guess we all really should just eat more chicken.

Joe Marchilena writes a weekly fitness column for Hampshire Hills. To find out more information about the “90 Day Commit to Get Fit” program, call 603-673-7123 or e-mail