News reports about a major study looking at the health effects of red meat may have made many a meat lover take note. Before this study, the American Institute for Cancer Research’s recent report found that limiting red meat to no more than 18 ounces per week lowers your risk of colon cancer. Now, several studies are adding further insight regarding the recommendations to limit red meat. And, as the studies show, it’s not all or nothing.
High Consumption of Red Meat
May Increase Risk of Certain Types of Cancer
The large NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study (1) has linked eating relatively large amounts of red and processed meat to increased overall deaths, as well as deaths specifically related to cancer and heart disease. The study followed more than half a million people aged 50 to 71 for 10 years. Those who ate the most red meat were 31 (men) to 36 (women) percent more likely to die than those who ate the least.
“Red meat” included all types of beef and pork. Those who ate the most processed meat – which included hot dogs, sausage and lunch meats made from beef, pork and poultry – were 16 (men) to 25 (women) percent more likely to die during the study than those who ate the least.
People who ate the most red meat consumed on average four to five ounces a day; people who ate the least red meat ate about that same amount in an entire week. Those who were in the middle, consuming approximately 18 ounces of red meat per week, showed a slightly increased mortality rate compared to those who ate the least, but substantially below that seen among the highest red-meat consumers.
However, the increased risk linked to red meat was not tied to all animal meat consumption: People in the study who ate the most poultry showed lower overall and cancer-related mortality than those who ate the least. The group consuming the most white meat averaged just over four ounces a day.
Another large study (2) supports this distinction between white and red meat. This study of middle-aged adults in Germany found that white meat consumption was unrelated to colon cancer risk. However, those who ate the most red meat showed greater tendency to form benign colon growths, which have the potential to become cancerous.
In a U.K. study of more than 64,000 adults (3), researchers found no difference in mortality rates between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. This study included a large number of relatively health-conscious people. Mortality of the whole study group was about half that seen throughout England and Wales. The meat-eaters ate on average about two ounces a day. The highest consumption was about 3 to 4 ounces daily.
These studies continue to support a relatively consistent message: Keep red meat to modest amounts. Whether you prefer to achieve this as a vegetarian, with occasional meatless meals, or with moderate portions of poultry and seafood on a mostly plant-based plate seems to matter much less.
 Sinha, R et al. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people.
Arch Intern Med, 2009. 169(6): 562-71.
 Rohrmann, S et al. Heterocyclic aromatic amine intake increases colorectal adenoma risk: findings from a prospective European cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr, 2009. 89: 1418-1424.
 Key, TJ et al. Mortality in British vegetarians: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Oxford). Am J Clin Nutr, 2009. 89: 1613S-1619S.
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian who promotes healthy eating as a syndicated nutrition news columnist, speaker and consultant with the American Institute for Cancer Research. For more information, visit www.karencollinsnutrition.com.
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