The latest addition to the list of things that can send you to an untimely grave: red meat. A study published yesterday by the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that eating a single serving of red meat per day may raise the risk of early mortality by as much as 13 percent.
The results of the study were based on 120,000 participants who recorded their lifestyle habits by filling out surveys over a period of several years. Those who consumed red meat regularly tended to have other bad health habits, like smoking, drinking alcohol, being physically inactive and eating fewer fruits and vegetables. Even when those factors were discounted, though, the link between early death and red meat remained.
So is it time to clear out your cache of frozen patties and lunchmeat? It turns out that might be a bit hasty. The study did not conclude that red meat consumption directly caused the increased risk of death, but rather that there was a correlation between the two factors. What especially raised a red flag, it's worth mentioning, was meat that contained compounds already known to boost the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, such as saturated fat, sodium nitrites and other processed chemicals.
It seems that Michael Pollan's golden rule, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” holds as true in light of this news as much as it did when his seminal article on diet, “Unhappy Meals,” was published by The New York Times in 2007.
Surely the most significant takeaway from this study is the importance of moderation, a trait that Americans in general have struggled with for some time. Health experts, including Frank Hu, the study's director, suggests that red meat should be consumed around two to three times per week, at most.
With the large amounts of highly processed meat available to consumers at bargain prices, steering away from steer appears to be a massive challenge for our carnivorous culture. But even a food budget that can't afford grass-fed beef or free-range pork will find it costs next to nothing to substitute red meat with similarly priced selections of poultry, fish, legumes or whole grains. Save that Grand Slam for the weekend, at least.