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Processed Meat May Play a Part in Early Death: Study

It found those who ate the most increased their risk of dying prematurely by 44 percent

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"Since meat is also rich in certain minerals and vitamins, we do not recommend not to eat meat anymore, but to reduce the intake of processed meats and to limit the intake of red meat to about 300 to 600 grams per week as recommended by other nutrition groups," Rohrmann said.

In addition, eating a lot of processed meat went along with other unhealthy choices. Those who ate the most processed meat ate the fewest fruits and vegetables and were more likely to smoke. Also, men who ate a lot of meat tended to drink a lot, the researchers found.

One expert pointed out that it might be hard to change bad habits in the United States.

"A side of sausage, a BLT or a ham sandwich are the daily norm for many Americans," said Samantha Heller, a clinical nutritionist at the NYU Center for Musculoskeletal Care, in New York City. "Limiting consumption of processed meat to less than an ounce a day, as the researchers of this study suggest, will be a difficult recommendation to put in place unless we can educate the public about the health concerns associated with eating processed meats regularly."

Health professionals, educators and food companies need to make efforts to change the culture of food in the United States so that healthy, plant-based eating becomes the daily norm, Heller said.

The American Meat Institute took issue with the findings.

"While we have significant concerns about the study's methodology and results, if one chooses to accept the study's conclusions Americans can rest assured that their processed meat consumption is, on average, at the approximate level recommended by these researchers and can feel confident that red meat consumed as part of healthy balanced diet offers good nutrition and no increased risk of mortality," American Meat Institute Foundation Chief Scientist Betsy Booren said in a statement.

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