A recent study conducted by scientists from the Loma Linda University of Health in California, USA, has linked constant consumption of red and processed meat to a higher risk of certain health conditions, such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and some cancers.
Previous studies had examined the effects of eating moderate to high amounts of meat on mortality; however, the impact of consuming small amounts had remained largely untested.
The researchers aimed to address this imbalance in the new study, as they noted: “We wanted to take a closer look at the association of low intakes of red and processed meat and the of cause cardiovascular diseases with cancer mortality, compared to those who didn’t eat meat at all,” said lead author, Saeed Mastour Alshahrani.
The team’s findings suggested that consuming small amounts of red and processed meat could increase a person’s risk of death.
The researchers used data from people who took part in the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2), which was a follow-up to the previous study conducted between 1974 and 1988. The AHS-2 cohort study recruited close to 96,000 Seventh-day Adventists living in the U.S. and Canada.
Adventists are an interesting group for scientists looking into factors relating to the diet because about half of them are vegetarian, and those who do choose to eat meat consume very little of it.
To see whether meat consumption had any effect on mortality, the researchers analysed two factors. The first was the cause of death of more than 7,900 Adventists over an 11-year period. The second was a dietary assessment of the same individuals using food frequency questionnaires.
The researchers noted that meat intake was low among the selected individuals. Of those who reported consuming meat, 90 percent ate 2 ounces or less of red meat per day.
When they evaluated the deaths, the investigators found that heart disease was responsible for almost 2,600 of them, while more than 1,800 deaths related to cancer.
The results, which featured in the journal , Nutrients, showed that there was an association between the consumption of a combination of red and processed meats and a higher risk of both total and heart disease deaths. Beef alone did not show a similar trend.
The study equally found that certain groups appeared to be more susceptible to specific meat types. For example, beef meat was significantly related to a risk of all-cause mortality for white people but not for black people. When the researchers looked specifically at the risk of heart disease mortality, they noted that this was only significant among women and black people.
Black people and women also had an increased risk of all-cause mortality from eating red and processed meats. However, the team only identified a link between processed meat consumption and cardiovascular disease in women.
According to the report in Medicalnewstoday, the researchers did not report any significant findings relating to cancer, but they noted that other studies have found evidence of a relationship between meat intake and the disease. As a result, they suggest that this association may only become apparent with higher meat consumption.
The co-author and co-director of the AHS-2, Michael Orlich, Ph.D., said “Our findings give additional weight to the evidence already suggesting red and processed meat may negatively impact health and lifespan.”
The study also shows something new by demonstrating that eating even a small amount of red and processed meat could be worse for health than eating none.
However, the study has both strengths and limitations. The researchers adjusted the results for various factors, including obesity, physical activity, and low intake of fruit and vegetables.
To strengthen the findings, the scientists also took into account specific dietary factors, such as intake of dairy, whole grains, and legumes. It also helped that relatively few of the participants smoked or drank alcohol.
Moreover, the study relied on questionnaires, which could cast doubt over the results because people may not recall consuming food that they eat very little of or consume irregularly.