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Is Eating Red Meat Dangerous to Your Health?

Let me start with a disclaimer: I'm not exactly an unbiased reporter on this subject.I became a vegetarian when I was 16. Although I've morphed into more of a "flexitarian" (eating fish or poultry occasionally) in recent years, I basically never eat red meat. On the other hand, at a catered dinner ...

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Let me start with a disclaimer: I'm not exactly an unbiased reporter on this subject.

I became a vegetarian when I was 16. Although I've morphed into more of a "flexitarian" (eating fish or poultry occasionally) in recent years, I basically never eat red meat. On the other hand, at a catered dinner last month I got my first-ever taste of filet mignon and was blown away by how good it was. It made me wonder if I should start eating beef again.

Now, reading my morning paper, I feel a renewed sense of commitment to those chickpeas in the cupboard. A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine finds that routinely eating as little as four ounces of red meat (a small hamburger's worth) each day appears to raise people's risk of death mortality rate by 30 percent or more! Processed meats such as cold cuts, hot dogs and sausage are also risk-raisers, while poultry and fish actually seem to decrease mortality slightly.

The study incorporated 10 years' worth of self-reported data from more than half a million 50- to 71-year-olds who participated in the National Institutes of Health-AARP's Diet and Health Study. Dr. Rashmi Sinha and other researchers at the National Cancer Institute took this data and analyzed it to connect the dots between participants' meat consumption habits and their risk for heart disease and cancer.

The correlation was especially dramatic among women who were daily red-meat eaters: Their risk of dying from heart disease skyrocketed 50 percent above other women, and their risk of dying from cancer shot up 36 percent. In men, regular consumption of red meat raised the risk of death from heart disease and cancer by 27 and 22 percent, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, the American Meat Institute isn't swallowing the study, arguing that self-reporting is an "imprecise approach" and noting other recent studies that appear to challenge the connection between red meat consumption and health risks.

I want to know what you think. Do you eat red meat on a daily basis? If so, will this study change your habits at all?
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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