Significant Health Benefits of Cutting Processed Meat From Daily Diet, Study Suggests

Significant Health Benefits of Cutting Processed Meat (Photo: Getty Images)

Reducing consumption of processed meat by about one-third could prevent more than 350,000 cases of diabetes in the US over the next decade, a study suggests.

Cutting US adults’ processed meat intake by 30%—equivalent to roughly 10 slices of bacon per week—would also lead to tens of thousands fewer cases of cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer, according to researchers.

A team from the University of Edinburgh’s Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems, along with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, developed a simulation tool to estimate the health impacts of reducing consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat.

While many studies have linked high levels of processed meat consumption to chronic diseases, few have evaluated the impact on multiple health outcomes. Some previous research suggests that unprocessed red meat may contribute to chronic disease risk, but the evidence remains limited.

The researchers utilized data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) national health survey to create a simulated, representative sample of the US adult population—a microsimulation.

Their microsimulation is the first to estimate the effects of reducing processed meat and unprocessed red meat consumption—from 5% to 100%—on multiple health outcomes in the US.

The team assessed how changes in meat consumption affect adults’ risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and death. The effects were evaluated for the population and separately by age, sex, household income, and ethnicity.

In addition to preventing more than 350,000 cases of diabetes, reducing processed meat intake by 30% would result in 92,500 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease and 53,300 fewer cases of colorectal cancer over a decade, according to the researchers.

Red Meat (Photo: Getty Images)

In this scenario, white males and those with an annual household income between $25,000 and $55,000 were found to experience the greatest health benefits.

The researchers also analyzed the impacts of reducing unprocessed red meat intake alone and cutting consumption of both processed and unprocessed red meat.

Reducing both by 30% resulted in 1,073,400 fewer cases of diabetes, 382,400 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease, and 84,400 fewer cases of colorectal cancer.

Cutting unprocessed red meat intake alone by 30%—which would mean eating around one less quarter-pound beef burger a week—resulted in more than 732,000 fewer cases of diabetes. It also led to 291,500 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease and 32,200 fewer cases of colorectal cancer.

The finding that more disease cases were prevented by reducing unprocessed red meat compared to processed meat is partly due to the average daily intake of unprocessed red meat being higher than that of processed meat, at 47g a day versus 29g a day, respectively.

As less is known about the effect of eating unprocessed red meat on chronic disease risk, the team advises that these estimates should be interpreted with caution and emphasizes the need for more research.

The study is published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

Professor Lindsay Jaacks, Personal Chair of Global Health and Nutrition at the University of Edinburgh and one of the study’s authors, said, “Cutting consumption of meat has been recommended by national and international organizations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the Climate Change Committee here in the UK and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC.

“Our research finds that these changes in diets could also have significant health benefits in the US, and so this is a clear win-win for people and planet.”

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