EU - Anyone who eats over 40 grams a day of sausage products or other kinds of processed meat is asking for trouble according to a report in the journal BMC Medicine.
The report from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Zurich in collaboration with research colleagues from all over Europe says the risk of mortality increases by 18 per cent for every 50 grams of processed meat per day.
“We estimate that three percent of all premature deaths can be attributed to the high consumption of processed meat,” said Sabine Rohrmann from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Zurich.
Teaming up with research colleagues from ten countries, she has been studying the link between the consumption of processed meat and the risk of mortality as part of a Europe-wide study with around 450,000 participants.
People who eat a lot of processed meat such as sausage products, salami or ham run a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer.
The problem is that carcinogenic substances such as nitrosamines form through salting, pickling or smoking, and these might be the cause of the increase in cancer mortality.
However, processed meats are also rich in cholesterol and saturated fats, which are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Consumption of processed meat one factor among many, but an important one, the study says.
Other lifestyle and dietary factors influence the link between the consumption of processed meat and the risk of illness or mortality: for instance, vegetarians often live more healthily than non-vegetarians, do more sport and are less likely to smoke.
This also goes for the present study: The participants who eat the most processed meat also eat fewer fruit and vegetables, consume more alcohol and smoke more. But even taking these factors into account in the evaluation of the data, the core result of the study still proves to be true: People who eat over 40 grams of processed meat per day have an increased risk of mortality compared to those who eat fewer than 20 grams a day.
However, meat also is a key source of important vitamins, especially B vitamins, and minerals such as iron.
“Therefore, the moderate consumption of up to 40 grams a day doesn’t increase the mortality risk,” said first author Rohrmann, summing up the good news from the study.
British Heart Foundation Heart Health Dietitian, Tracy Parker, said: “With spring in the air, many of us may be looking forward to sunny barbeques. But this research suggests processed meat, such as sausages and burgers, may be linked to an increased risk of early death.
“However, the people who ate the most processed meat in this study also made other unhealthy lifestyle choices. They were found to eat less fruit and vegetables and were more likely to smoke, which may have had an impact on results.
“Red meat can still be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Opting for leaner cuts and using healthier cooking methods such as grilling will help to keep your heart healthy. If you eat lots of processed meat, try to vary your diet with other protein choices such as chicken, fish, beans or lentils.”
The report Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition by Sabine Rohrmann, et al. is published in BMC Medicine March 2013.