New study links processed meat to mortality

People have an increased risk of dying if they eat too much processed meat, a report published today has claimed.

According to the report, led by Professor Sabine Rohrmann from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Zurich, anyone who eats more than 40g a day of sausage products or any other kinds of processed meats "is asking for trouble".

The report, which was conducted with around 450,000 participants and the result of a collaboration between research colleagues from all over Europe, concluded that the mortality rate increases by 18% for each 50g of processed meat consumed per day.

Rohrmann said: "We estimate that 3% of all premature deaths can be attributed to the high consumption of processed meat. People who eat a lot of processed meat, such as sausage products, salami or ham, run a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer."

Carcinogens and cholesterol

Researchers writing in the journal BMC Medicine, which is where the research was published, said the salt and chemicals used to preserve the meat in processed meat products may be damaging to health.

They stated that carcinogenic substances, such as nitrosamines formed through salting, pickling or smoking, could be the cause of the increase in cancer mortality. Processed meats are often rich in cholesterol and saturated fats which are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, they said.

However, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has pointed out that the study also said eating some red meat appeared to be beneficial to health.

BHF heart health dietitian Tracy Parker also noted that the people who ate the most processed meat in the study, also made "other unhealthy lifestyle choices".

"They were found to eat less fruit and vegetables and were more likely to smoke, which may have had an impact on results," she said.

Rohrmann also pointed out that other lifestyle and dietary factors influenced the link between consumption of processed meat and the risk of illness or mortality. She said: "For instance, vegetarians often live more healthily than non-vegetarians, do more sport and are less likely to smoke.

"This also goes for the present study: the participants who eat the most processed meat also eat fewer fruit and vegetables, consume more alcohol and smoke more. But even taking these factors into account in the evaluation of the data, the core result of the study still proves to be true: People who eat more than 40g of processed meat per day have an increased risk of mortality compared to those who eat fewer than 20g a day."

Meat is important

Meat is also a key source for important vitamins, including B vitamins and minerals such as iron, and Rohrmann added: "Therefore, moderate consumption of up to 40g a day doesn’t increase the mortality risk."

Parker added: "Red meat can still be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.  Opting for leaner cuts and using healthier cooking methods, such as grilling, will help to keep your heart healthy. If you eat lots of processed meat, try to vary your diet with other protein choices such as chicken, fish, beans or lentils."