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Increasing the amount of red meat you eat can increase your risk of early death, a study that tracked more than 80,000 people’s eating habits found.
Just half a serving per day more of red meat was associated with a 10% increased risk in premature death. Researchers also found that decreasing red meat consumption while also increasing consumption of nuts, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, whole grains or vegetables was associated with a lower risk of early death, too.
“This long-term study provides further evidence that reducing red meat intake while eating other protein foods or more whole grains and vegetables may reduce risk of premature death,” study author Frank Hu of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health said in a statement.
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The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal.
Whether the red meat was processed matters, too. Researchers found that at least half a serving more of processed red meat increased the risk of premature death by 13% whereas the same amount of unprocessed red meat increased the risk by just 9%.
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The results held true, regardless of the person’s age, physical activity level, dietary quality, smoking status or alcohol consumption, the study authors say.
The researchers tracked 27,916 men and 53,553 women from two groups between 1986 and 2010 and looked at their red meat consumption over eight-year periods and their health in eight years that followed.
Speaking with NPR, Georgetown University professor Tom Sherman, who was not involved in the study, called the study “pretty interesting” because it tracked changes in behavior.
“Changes in behavior are fairly illuminating, and diagnostic,” he told the public broadcaster. However, the study is observational and can prove only association, not causation. Sherman said a weakness of the study is that its can’t fully control for independent factors that may be adding to the trend.
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Heather Fields, an internal medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic, told CNN that the study contributes to a growing body of research that shows the potential negative effects of eating more red meat.
“Keeping these findings in mind, we can now shift focus on which foods we can add to the diet to improve longevity and decrease risk of chronic diseases,” she said. Fields was not involved in the study.
Hu advocated for changes in diet, too.
“To improve both human health and environmental sustainability, it is important to adopt a Mediterranean-style or other diet that emphasizes healthy plant foods,” he said in a statement.
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Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller
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