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Avoid eating processed meats entirely, researchers advise

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Eating just two sausages per week increases your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and early death, a multinational team of researchers have warned.  

The team, led by experts at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Canada, tracked the diets and health outcomes of 134,297 people from 21 countries spanning five continents, including Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Sweden and China.    

They found a 46 per cent higher risk of major CVD events, like heart disease and stroke, as well as a 51 per cent higher risk of death among those who ate at least 150g a week of processed meat, compared with those who ate no processed meat.  

Assuming 75g is a single sausage, this equates to just two sausages per week – but the risk applies to any form of processed meats, the experts warn. 

Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by smoking or salting, curing or adding chemical preservatives. 

Consumption of processed meats – such as sausages, ham, pâté, corned beef, smoked meat, salami and cured bacon – should be completely avoided, according to the American Society for Nutrition, which published the study. 

Research published earlier this month has already revealed just one rasher of bacon a day increases the risk of getting dementia by 44 per cent.

Processed meats include sausages, salami and cured bacon, pâté and beefburgers. Processed meats are generally high in fat and are often high in salt too. Pictured, grilled sausage at a Brazilian barbecue (stock image)

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE 

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels.

It’s usually associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries (atherosclerosis) and an increased risk of blood clots.

It can also be associated with damage to arteries in organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys and eyes.

CVD is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK, but it can often largely be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle. 

All heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases, but not all cardiovascular diseases are heart disease.

CVD events include  

It’s also already known that eating a lot of processed meat increases your risk of bowel cancer. 

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that consumption of processed meat is ‘carcinogenic to humans’. 

But research has also shown that also that processed meat causes CVD – which a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels, including blood pressure, stroke and vascular dementia. 

All the different types of CVDs combined make it the number one cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year, according to WHO.  

‘We found an adverse association between processed meat intake and health outcomes,’ researchers say in their new paper, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

‘These findings may indicate that limiting the intake of processed meat should be encouraged.’ 

Consumption of unprocessed red meat and unprocessed poultry was not found to be associated with mortality nor major CVD events.  

The amounts of preservative and food additives in processed and unprocessed meats differ markedly, which may partly explain their different effects on health, according to the team.    

‘The totality of the available data indicates that consuming a modest amount of unprocessed meat as part of a healthy dietary pattern is unlikely to be harmful,’ said study co-author Dr. Mahshid Dehghan at McMaster University, Canada.      

Evidence of an association between meat intake and CVD has so far been inconsistent.

‘We therefore wanted to better understand the associations between intakes of unprocessed red meat, poultry, and processed meat with major cardiovascular disease events and mortality,’ said study author Dr. Romaina Iqbal at the Department of Community Health Sciences and Medicine, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan.

‘PURE’ COUNTRIES 

PURE study has tracked the dietary habits and health outcomes of participants from 21 low-, middle-, and high-income countries.

Low-income 

Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Middle-income 

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Iran, Malaysia, occupied Palestine territory, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and Turkey. 

High-income

Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates. 

To learn more, the team worked with data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study, a long-term study launched in 2003 by Dr. Salim Yusuf, Director of Population Health Research Institute, Canada. 

PURE study is the first multinational study that provides information on the association between unprocessed and processed meat intakes with health outcomes from low, middle and high-income countries.  

‘The PURE study examines substantially more diverse populations and broad patterns of diet, enabling us to provide new evidence,’ said Dr Dehghan.

Participants’ dietary habits were recorded using food frequency questionnaires, while data was also collected on their mortality and major cardiovascular disease events.  

After following the participants for almost a decade, there were 6,976 CVD events and 7,789 deaths.

Upon completing their analysis, the study authors ‘did not find significant associations between unprocessed red meat and poultry intake with mortality or major cardiovascular disease’. 

By contrast, processed meat intake was associated with higher risks of total mortality and major cardiovascular disease. 

Researchers controlled for factors like smoking status and levels of physical activity that may have influenced the results. 

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. CVD events include heart disease and stroke. All heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases, but not all cardiovascular diseases are heart disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. CVD events include heart disease and stroke. All heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases, but not all cardiovascular diseases are heart disease

The authors believe that additional research may improve current understanding of the relationship between meat consumption and health outcomes. 

For example, it is unclear what study participants with lower meat intakes were eating instead of meat, and if the quality of those foods differed between countries.

Non-meat food substitutes may have implications in further interpreting the associations between meat consumption and health outcomes.      

One limitation of the study was that dietary intake was self-reported – meaning any inaccuracies may have lead to random errors that could have distorted the results.  

The study has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

WHAT IS DEFINED AS PROCESSED MEAT AND WHY IS IT HARMFUL? 

Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by smoking or salting, curing or adding chemical preservatives.

Examples include sausages, ham, pâté, corned beef, smoked meat, salami, chorizo and cured bacon. 

Experts think the substances added during processing cause cancer. These include preservatives such as nitrates – as well as substantial amounts of salt and fat.

Most mince from butchers and supermarkets does not count as processed meat – but sausages and burgers do unless they are home made.

The potential adverse impact of processed meat on health may not be entirely due to its saturated fat or cholesterol content as the amounts of these nutrients are similar in processed and unprocessed meats. 

Government guidelines introduced in 2011 recommend that adults eat no more than 70g of red or processed meat each day.

This is equivalent to one small sausage or two rashers of bacon a day or one lamb chop every other day.

Fresh red meat is also strongly linked to cancer.

But it also provides many nutritional benefits and is high in protein, iron and vitamin B12, which prevent tiredness and infections.

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