Red meat may just be more deadly than smoking. In a study published by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, people who increased their daily consumption of red meat over an eight-year period were more likely to die during the next eight years. Even a little more meat led to an increased risk of death, and the worst type of meat appears to be processed. The study reviewed nearly 80,000 individual's meat consumption and subsequent disease risk and mortality. The review showed that greater consumption of red meat, especially processed red meat, is associated with higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, including those of the colon and rectum, and premature death.

So maybe the Beyond Burger arrived just in time. Researchers used health data from 53,553 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and 27,916 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study -- all of whom were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the outset. They looked at whether changes in red meat consumption over eight years predicted mortality in the next eight years, and found that increasing daily consumption of processed meat intake by half a serving or more was associated with a 13 percent higher risk of mortality from all causes and the same amount of increased consumption of red meat boosted risk 9 percent. This was consistent across all ages of the study subjects, irrespective of physical activity level, smoking status, or alcohol consumption. meaning red meat could be more of a predictor of premature death than any of those other factors.

One bright spot: The study also showed that, when subjects decreased red meat consumption in combination with an increase in nuts, fish, skinless poultry, dairy, eggs, whole grains, or vegetables, they had a lower risk of death in the subsequent eight years.

“This long-term study provides further evidence that reducing red meat intake while eating other protein foods or more whole grains and vegetables may reduce risk of premature death,” said senior author Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and chair, Department of Nutrition. “To improve both human health and environmental sustainability, it is important to adopt a Mediterranean-style or other diet that emphasizes healthy plant foods.” So the next time you're tempted to ask for a bologna sandwich, ask yourself if you want to be around in eight years. Maybe go with the veggie wrap instead.

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