Eating red or processed meat on a daily basis may increase all causes of mortality, scientists claim. The findings were published to provide primary care physicians with new evidence-based guidance about whether they should discourage patients from eating meat.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, is the latest in a series of research studies investigating the effects of meat consumption on health.
The findings echo the cancer monograph published in October 2015 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for research on cancer (IARC), which classified red meat as probably carcinogenic and processed meat as carcinogenic.
In this latest publication, scientists from the Mayo Clinic conducted a review of six large-scale studies, involving more than 1.5 million people in the US, China and the European Union (EU). Overall, eating processed meat was associated with a higher levels of "all-cause mortality". The link between daily consumption of red meat and mortality was also statistically significant, although less so than in the case of processed meat.
Results differed somewhat for Americans and Europeans. Indeed, in one study, unprocessed red meat increased all-cause mortality in the American cohort, but not the European cohort.
The compiled evidence did not link other animal products to all-cause mortality. The researchers observed a 3.6-year increase in life expectancy for those on a vegetarian diet − which included fish, eggs or milk − for more than 17 years, as compared to shorter-term vegetarians.
A balanced diet
According to the study's authors, this data should prompt physicians to advise their patients to limit animal products-intake, and to replace red meat with poultry, fish and eggs whenever possible.
What they say reinforces what many nutrition experts have said following the publication of the IARC monograph: eating large and daily quantities of meat carries risks but banning all animal products from one's diet is not recommended either. Meat − provided it is consumed in reasonable quantities − can form part of a balanced diet.
Currently, the World Cancer Research Fund advises individuals to limit their red meat consumption to 500 grams per week, as part of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.