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Heart Disease Health Center

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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By the middle of 2009, more than 26,000 of those in the study had died.

"Mortality is increased when we compare those participants who eat more than 40 grams per day of processed meat to those who have 10 to 20 grams per day," Rohrmann said.

The higher the consumption, the higher the risk. "For the highest consumption group (those who consume at least 160 grams of processed meat per day) mortality was 44 percent higher compared with those who eat little meat (10 to 20 grams a day)," she said.

"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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