How bad is red meat for your health really? A study of more than half a million people found that eating large amounts of red meat, and any processed meats, increases your overall risk of dying, and your risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease. The study was just published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. An accompanying editorial made the point that not only is red meat tough on your health, but it is a burden for the planet, too: Livestock production uses 15 to 20 percent of the world’s water, and pollutes even more of it. (It’s a tough week for meat lovers. This study adds to other bad news for meat eaters, including that eating red meat more than ten times a week may raise the risk of age-related vision loss.)
Researchers compared the eating habits and health status of 322,263 men and 223,390 women enrolled in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, starting in 1995; participants were 50 to 71 years old when they signed up. The people who reported eating the most red meat ate more than eight 3- to 4-ounce servings a week, while the people on the low end ate about a serving a week. Over the next 10 years, the men who ate the most red meat had a 31 percent greater risk of death than the men who ate the least amount. The women who ate the most red meat faced a 36 percent increase when compared to the women in the low red meat-eating group.
If you love a burger, the food police aren’t going to come and take it out of your hands. But do you have to eat one at every meal? Cutting back on red meat in your diet may have wide-ranging health effects. It’s not exactly clear why red meat is linked to a higher risk of death, but Barry Popkin, PhD, author of The World is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race (Penguin, 2009) says saturated fat is most likely to blame. He also wrote an editorial that accompanied the study, which pointed out that reducing meat consumption will not only heal ourselves, but the planet, too. For instance, he says, it takes 2 to 5 times the amount of water to raise livestock than it does to grow food crops. The United Nations also found that livestock are responsible for nearly 20 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions—even more than transportation.
Whether you want to protect the health of you and your family, the environment, or both (hey, it’s all connected), here are easy ways to make better meat choices.