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Eating A Lot Of Red Meat May Heighten Risk Of Death, Study Finds

A diet high in red-meat intake has long been associated with the risk of developing certain diseases, but now a new study has found it may also increase the risk of death.

According to the long-term study in the US and China, increasing red meat intake, particularly processed red meat, can heighten the risk of death by up to 13 percent.

The eight-year study has just been published in the Britsih Medical Journal and looked at the eating habits of around 53,000 women and just under 28,000 men, who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the start of the study.

Of the participants, 14,000 died by the end of the study and researchers found the leading cause of deaths were cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and neurodegenerative disease.

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According to the findings increasing red meat intake by 3.5 servings a week or more over an eight-year period was associated with a 10 percent higher risk of death in the next eight years.

While increasing processed red meat servings by the same amount was associated with a 13 percent higher risk of death.

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But it wasn't all bad news. Researchers also found the risk of death could be significantly lowered by reducing red meat intake while also eating more whole grains, vegetables, poultry, eggs and fish.

"For example, swapping out one serving per day of red meat for one serving of fish per day over eight years was linked to a 17 percent lower risk of death in the subsequent eight years," the researchers found.

A number of Australian experts have thrown their support behind the study, reflecting on past research which has found many Australians consume a high amount of processed meat a day, including sausages and ham.

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Finlay Macrae, Head of Colorectal Medicine and Genetics at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said the study supports existing recommendations that red meat, and particularly processed red meat, should only be consumed in moderation.

"Importantly it demonstrates that the modest mortality risk from eating red meat can be mitigated by consuming proteins from plant sources," he said.

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Professor Elina Hyppönen, Professor in Nutritional and Genetic Epidemiology at the University of South Australia said the study was encouraging because it suggested that the benefits of reducing red meat intake would still be felt regardless of how much of it had been consumed in the past.

"This is, of course, good news, as it suggests that by making changes to our dietary patterns now, we may be able to positively affect our health regardless of whether our diet has been healthy or not in the past," she said.

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Contact the author: vgerova@networkten.com.au