Even Eating a Little Red Meat May Increase Risk of Death

©. Beet and quinoa replaces beef in plant-based burgers. (sarsmis/Shutterstock)

New research finds that consuming small amounts of red and processed meats may increase the risk of death from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease.

Well there you go. While we're over here generally preaching moderation, a new study from Loma Linda University Health puts the kibosh on that by finding that consuming even small amounts of red and processed meats, versus none, may impact mortality from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease.

Lead author of the study, Saeed Mastour Alshahrani, says that while previous research has compared the risks of eating more meat with eating less meat, the new research looks at eating small amounts of meat compared to eating none.

"A question about the effect of lower levels of intakes compared to no-meat eating remained unanswered," Alshahrani says. "We wanted to take a closer look at the association of low intakes of red and processed meat with all-cause, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer mortality compared to those who didn't eat meat at all."

The researchers took an interesting approach by using data from the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2), a prospective cohort study of some 96,000 Seventh-day Adventist men and women in the United States and Canada. Unlike the more varied diets of other cohorts, approximately half of Adventists are vegetarians, and those who consume meat do so at low levels. "This allowed researchers to investigate the effect of low levels of red and processed meat intake compared to zero-intake in a large setting such as the Adventist Health Study," according to a statement from Loma Linda.

The study analyzed the deaths of over 7,900 people during an 11-year period. Of those individuals who consumed meat, 90 percent of them only ate about two ounces or less of red meat per day.

"We found that highest intakes of red and processed meat were associated with an 18–51% higher risk of all-cause mortality as compared to zero-intake participants," notes the study. But even lower intakes were problematic.

The study concludes, "we found higher all-cause and CVD mortality to be associated with relatively low intake of red and processed meat (and of unprocessed red meat in particular), compared to zero intake."

Of course it's always good to remember that, as the authors point out, caution is appropriate in inferring causation from observational data. Nonetheless, they say, "these results suggest possible adverse effects of red and processed meat, even with low to moderate levels of intake."

As study co-author, Michael Orlich, MD, PhD., puts it: "Our findings give additional weight to the evidence already suggesting that eating red and processed meat may negatively impact health and lifespan."

The study, Red and Processed Meat and Mortality in a Low Meat Intake Population, was published in the journal Nutrients.