Swap sausages for steak - a study finds processed meat is linked to early death, but fresh cuts are easier on the heart

Swap sausages for steak - a study finds processed meat is linked to early death, but fresh cuts are easier on the heart
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  • Regularly eating red meat and chicken may not be as unhealthy as previously thought.
  • New research suggests processed meat is linked to health risks, but unprocessed meat in small quantities is not.
  • More research is needed, but evidence supports swapping out bacon and sausage for chicken or beans.

Meat might be back on the menu for a healthy diet, at least if you avoid highly-processed varieties, new research suggests.

While eating processed meat like bacon and sausage is linked to worse health outcomes, fresh cuts of red meat and chicken may not increase your risk of disease, according to a study published March 31 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers from multiple universities, including McMaster University in Canada, looked at data from 134,297 people across 21 countries, including Canada, Sweden, Russia, South Africa, India, and Brazil, over a time span of nine and a half years, on average.

They found that eating more than three servings of unprocessed red meat and chicken per week was not associated with a higher risk of heart disease or earlier death from any cause.

However, people who ate more than two servings a week of processed meat were more likely to develop major cardiovascular illness and more likely to die during the study, than people who didn't eat processed meat.


Previous research has linked red meat to cancer and heart disease

These findings are in contrast to previous research that has linked red meat to risk of heart disease and other chronic illness - albeit less so than processed meat. Both red meat and processed meat are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and heme iron, all of which have been previously associated with risk of heart disease, cancer, and other illness.

One reason for these contradictory findings is that most studies on nutrition, including this one, are observational. That means they can find associations between certain dietary patterns and disease, but they can't prove whether specific foods directly cause health risks.

And in some cases, studies on health risks of meat have grouped red and processed meat into one category, making it difficult to determine if they have different effects on health.

"Evidence of an association between meat intake and cardiovascular disease is inconsistent. We therefore wanted to better understand the associations between intakes of unprocessed red meat, poultry, and processed meat with major cardiovascular disease events and mortality," Dr. Romaina Iqbal, first author of this recent study and a nutrition professor at Aga Khan University in Pakistan, said in a press release.

Consider cutting back on processed meat

While the debate around red meat continues to be somewhat controversial, the authors of the most recent study conclude that limiting processed meat is a safe bet for health. That's supported by other research as well.


That's a good reason to consider swapping out your deli meat or hot dogs for chicken breast, beef filet, or even a meat-free alternative.