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Just one serving of red meat a day may lead to early death: study

Michelle/Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Did you eat any beef yesterday? How about pepperoni slices on pizza or a few rashers of bacon to go with your morning eggs?

If so, excess calories could be the least of your concerns. According to a new study, eating a single serving of red meat each day may increase the risk of an early death.

The study, which followed more than 120,000 American men and women, found that daily consumption of red meat was associated with a 13-per-cent increase in mortality risk.

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Processed meat was even more dangerous. Researchers linked daily consumption of just one hot dog or two bacon strips to a 20-per-cent increased risk of death.

Cancer and cardiovascular disease were leading causes of death in the 28-year study, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, the Guardian reports.

Red-meat eaters are known to have an increased risk of chronic diseases, said 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," he told ABC News.

But, you might argue, you're not your average meat-eating slob. You exercise, don't smoke, love veggies and drink in moderation.

Unfortunately, healthy habits don't appear to offset the red-meat risk. Even after Dr. Hu and colleagues controlled for other risk factors, such as smoking, drinking and sedentary lifestyles, red meat pointed the way to an earlier grave.

In contrast, replacing red meat with protein sources such as poultry, fish and legumes was associated with a lower mortality risk. Nuts in particular were said to reduce the risk of dying by 20 per cent. (Vegans can shout a big "hurrah!")

Meanwhile, the meat industry is picking at the raw data. Betsy Booren, director of scientific affairs for the American Meat Institute, gave the study a thumbs-down because it relied on self-reports. She also criticized the researchers' statistical analyses for being ineffective at separating the effects of meat consumption from other lifestyle habits.

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But if the study's conclusions are sound, red meat should come with a warning label: Eat at your own risk.

How often do you eat hot dogs, steak, beef jerky or sandwich meat? Do you worry about the health risks?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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