The study, which followed more than 120,000 American men and women, linked daily consumption of unprocessed red meat with a 13 percent increase in mortality risk.
A daily serving of processed meat carried an even bigger risk. Eating one hotdog or two strips of bacon per day was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of death, according to the study.
“It’s not really surprising because red meat consumption has been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer,” said Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of the study. “What is surprising is the magnitude of risk associated with very moderate red meat consumption.”
Nearly three-quarters of the study participants reported eating one or more daily servings of red meat. “Habitual, daily consumption of these products is actually very common, both in our study and in the general population,” said Dr. Hu.
“I think the public health message is pretty straightforward,” said Dr. Hu. “We should switch from a red meat-based diet to a plant-based diet with healthier protein choices.”
Swapping red meat for healthy protein sources, such as legumes and whole grains, was linked to up to a 19 percent decrease in mortality risk.
Dr. Dean Ornish, clinical professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, urges people to scale back on red meat consumption for another reason: the environment. A quarter-pounder with cheese “takes 26 ounces of petroleum and leaves a 13-pound carbon footprint. This is equivalent to burning 7 pounds of coal,” he wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. “What is personally sustainable is globally sustainable. What is good for you is good for our planet.”
The perfect physician, Dr. Shakyamuni Buddha, suggests that a compassion-based diet is best for all sentient beings.