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Heart Disease Health Center

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Processed Meat Linked to Heart, Diabetes Risks

Study Compares Diabetes and Heart Risks of Processed and Unprocessed Meat
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 17, 2010 -- A new study shows eating processed red meat -- such as hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and cold cuts -- is linked to increased risks of heart disease and diabetes.

But the study, published in Circulation, shows no such link for unprocessed red meat.

Eating one serving a day of processed meat -- or the equivalent of a single hot dog or two slices of salami -- was associated with a 42% increased risk for heart disease and a 19% increased risk for diabetes in the study, conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Eating unprocessed beef, pork, or lamb was not linked to a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes.

The study is the largest research review ever to attempt to tease out the health impact of eating processed vs. unprocessed red meat.

The finding that all red meats are not equal when it comes to heart and metabolic disease risk has important implications for public health, says study researcher Renata Micha, PhD.

But that doesn't mean it's OK to eat steak for dinner every night if you cut way back on bacon at breakfast and hot dogs or deli meats at lunch.

"People should limit their consumption of processed meats," Micha says. "Eating up to one serving a week would not be associated with much risk. And this study should not be taken as license to eat unlimited amounts of unprocessed red meat."

Hot Dogs and Heart Risk

Micha and colleagues included 20 studies involving more than 1.2 million people in their analysis.

For the purposes of the study, red meat was defined as any unprocessed beef, lamb, or pork food.

Processed meat was defined as any meat preserved by smoking, curing, or salting, or any meat containing chemical preservatives such as nitrates.

Even after taking into account established risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, eating processed meat was associated with an increased risk for both.

Processed and unprocessed meats contained similar amounts of fat and cholesterol, but processed meats contained, on average, about four times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives than unprocessed meats, the researchers note.

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