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Step away from the fake bacon because there’s bad news. Eating as few as two servings of red and processed meat per week has been linked to “increased risk of heart attack and stroke,” according to new research published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers analyzed data on nearly 30,000 U.S. adults who were followed for nearly three decades. They found that people who had the highest intake of red meat, processed meat and poultry had a small but increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Moreover, the study finds that a higher intake of processed meat and unprocessed red meat — but not fish — significantly correlates with a small increase in the risk of all-cause mortality.
The study was observational, meaning the scientists could isolate links between diet and lifestyle behaviors and cardiovascular outcomes but they could not prove cause and effect. Ultimately, they concluded that eating two or more servings of red meat, processed meat or poultry per week was linked to a 4% to 7% higher risk of developing heart disease. They found that the higher the intake, the higher the risk.
This study comes several months after the Annals of Internal Medicine published a controversial guideline stating that eating red and processed meat at current U.S. levels carries little risk.
The new findings are unlikely to settle the debate over red meat and its link to chronic disease. But they provide further evidence for experts who argue that red and processed meats contribute to the risk of heart disease.
Meanwhile, the average American eats about 4 1/2 servings of red meat a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 10 percent of the population eats at least two servings a day.
The takeaway from the study? If you’re concerned about heart health or risk for cancer or other diseases, limit your intake of red and processed meats, said lead study author Victor Zhong, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, in a statement.
“Our study shows the link to cardiovascular disease and mortality was robust,” Zhong said. “Modifying intake of these animal protein foods may be an important strategy to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death at a population level.”