The latest study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) says, that like Bill Clinton, you should avoid red meat at all costs. Researchers at HSPH found a link between red meat consumption and an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality. The researchers, however, note that you do not have to swear off other sources of protein such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes. Mr. Clinton, as a vegan, eats no meat, dairy, eggs and barely any oil.
Former President Clinton, once an avid consumer of red meat, is now a vegan. “The good news is, my husband loves to eat and enjoys it,” former First Lady Hillary Clinton said in an interview with The New York Times in the early 1990s. “The bad news is, he loves to eat, even when things are not always right for him,” she added.
Mr. Clinton’s love of red meat was lampooned by a “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring actor Phil Hartman, in which Mr. Hartman entered a McDonald’s as the president-elect and sampled people’s burgers and fries as he made conversation with them.
Although Mr. Clinton first started dieting in 1993 at Ms. Clinton’s request, CNN reports, the former president did not swear off red meat until after he had left the Oval Office. In 2004, as he journeyed to New Orleans, Mr. Clinton started experiencing chest pains and, within days, underwent a quadruple bypass surgery to revitalize blood flow to his heart. “I was lucky I did not die of a heart attack,” Mr. Clinton posited to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta in August 2011.
“Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies,” said the study’s lead author An Pan, a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH, in a HSPH press release.
Frank Hu, the study’s senior author and a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH, and his colleagues examined 37,698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for as many as 22 years and 83,644 women in the Nurses’ Health Study for as many as 28 years who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancers when the study began. Using questionnaires, the researchers examined the participants’ diets every four years.
In total, 23,926 deaths were documented in the two studies. Nearly 6,000 participants died from CVD and nearly 9,500 died from cancer. Researchers found that regular consumption of red meat (namely processed red meat) was connected with increased mortality risk. A participant who ate one daily serving of unprocessed red meat had a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, while a participant who ate one daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, had a 20 percent increased risk of mortality.
As far as the specific causes of mortality are concerned, the comparable increases in risk were 18 percent and 21 percent for CVD and 10 percent and 16 percent for cancer. The researchers took into account chronic disease risk factors such as age, body mass index, physical activity, family history of heart disease, or major cancers.
“This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death,” said Mr. Hu. “On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality,” he added. If this is the case, Mr. Clinton and others, who choose a diet that is free of red meat, stand a better chance of living longer.
Why is red meat so bad for you? The researchers posit that red meat contains ingredients that have been linked to increased risk of CVD and cancer. Ingredients such as heme iron, saturated fat, sodium, nitrites, and some carcinogens are listed by the researchers.
However, Mr. Clinton and others, who have replaced red meat with different types of proteins, can lower their risk of mortality. Researchers argue that replacing one serving of total red meat with one serving of a healthy protein source was linked to a lower mortality risk: 7 percent for fish, 14 percent for poultry, 19 percent for nuts, 10 percent for legumes, 10 percent for low-fat dairy products, and 14 percent for whole grains. The researchers calculated that 9.3 percent of deaths in men and 7.6 percent in women could have been prevented at the end of the follow-up if all the participants had eaten less than 0.5 servings per day of red meat.
The HSPH study was partially funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute. The study, Red Meat Consumption and Mortality, will be published online in Archives of Internal Medicine on March 12, 2012.