Small amounts of red, processed meats increase mortality risk, study says

Eating red meat and processed meat products, even in small amounts, may increase risk of mortality from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease, according to a new study from Loma Linda University Health in California, which was published in the journal Nutrients.

The study evaluated the deaths of over 7,900 individuals over an 11-year period. Diet was assessed using a validated quantitative food frequency questionnaire and mortality outcome data were obtained from the National Death Index. Of those individuals who consumed meat, 90 percent of them only ate about two ounces or less of red meat per day, according to the study abstract.

Over the study period, nearly 2,600 of the reported deaths were due to cardiovascular disease, and over 1,800 were cancer deaths. Processed meats, such as ham and salami, alone were not significantly associated with risk of mortality, possibly due to a very small proportion of the population who consume such meat, researchers say. However, the total intake of red and processed meat was associated with relatively higher risks of total and cardiovascular disease deaths.

The study is part of the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2), a prospective cohort study of about 96,000 Seventh-day Adventist men and women in the United States and Canada. Adventists are a unique population, researchers said, because approximately 50 percent are vegetarians, and those who consume meat do so at low levels. Therefore, researchers could investigate the effect of low levels of red and processed meat intake compared to no intake in a large setting.

Saeed Mastour Alshahrani, PhD candidate and lead author of the, said the research fills an important gap left by previous studies that looked at relatively higher levels of red meat intake and compared them with low intakes.

"A question about the effect of lower levels of intakes compared to no-meat eating remained unanswered," Alshahrani said. "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."