People who eat more red or processed meat have a higher risk of death from all causes including cancer, while a higher consumption of white meat reduces such risks, a decade-long US study found.
The joint study begun in 1995 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and seniors group AARP followed more than half a million men and women between age 50 and 71, who filled out a food frequency questionnaire estimating their intake of red and processed meats as well as white meats such as pork, chicken and turkey.
Over the study period, 47 976 men and 23 276 women died. The one fifth of men and women who ate the most red meat - a median of 62.5 grams per 4 200 kilojoules per day - had a higher mortality rate than the one fifth who consumed the least - 9.8 grams per 4 200 kilojoules, according to the report.
A similar rate held true for consumers of processed meat. Comparatively, the top fifth of white meat consumers had a slightly lower risk for death than those who ate the least white meat.
"For overall mortality, 11% of deaths in men and 16% of deaths in women could be prevented if people decreased their red meat consumption to the level of intake in the first quintile," wrote the authors led by Rashmi Sinha of NIH's National Cancer Institute.
"The impact on cardiovascular disease mortality was an 11% decrease in men and a 21% decrease in women if the red meat consumption was decreased to the amount consumed by individuals in the first quintile."
Cancer-causing compounds are know to form during high-temperature cooking of meat, the report stated, and meat is a major source of saturated fat, which has been linked to certain cancers.
Lower meat consumption has been linked to reductions in risk factors for heart disease, including lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
"These results complement the recommendations by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund to reduce red and processed meat intake to decrease cancer incidence," the authors wrote. – (Sapa, March 2009)