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Processed meat 'early death' link

Sausages, ham, bacon and other processed meats appear to increase the risk of dying young, a study of half a million people across Europe suggests.

It concluded diets high in processed meats were linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and early deaths.

The researchers, writing in the journal BMC Medicine, said salt and chemicals used to preserve the meat may damage health.

The British Heart Foundation suggested opting for leaner cuts of meat.

The study followed people from 10 European countries for nearly 13 years on average.

Lifestyle factors

It showed people who ate a lot of processed meat were also more likely to smoke, be obese and have other behaviors known to damage health.

 Stopping smoking is more important than cutting meat, but I would recommend people reduce their meat intake”

However, the researchers said even after those risk factors were accounted for, processed meat still damaged health.

One in every 17 people followed in the study died. However, those eating more than 160g of processed meat a day - roughly two sausages and a slice of bacon - were 44% more likely to die over a typical follow-up time of 12.7 years than those eating about 20g.

In total, nearly 10,000 people died from cancer and 5,500 from heart problems.

Prof Sabine Rohrmann, from the University of Zurich, told the BBC: "High meat consumption, especially processed meat, is associated with a less healthy lifestyle.

"But after adjusting for smoking, obesity and other confounders we think there is a risk of eating processed meat.

"Stopping smoking is more important than cutting meat, but I would recommend people reduce their meat intake."

Red meat includes beef, lamb and pork including minced beef, pork chops and roast lamb. It does not include chicken or turkey meat.

 

    What is processed meat?

 

Processed meat refers to meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and some sausages. Hamburgers and minced meats only count as processed meat if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.

    Is meat good for you?

Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is one of the main sources of vitamin B12, also found in milk.

Advice from the Department of Health is to consume healthier meat or meat products, such as lean cuts of meat and lean mince and cut down on processed meat.

    Will I get enough iron?

A healthy, balanced diet containing other good sources of iron - such as lentils, beans, eggs, fish, chicken, nuts and breakfast cereals - is advised.

She said if everyone in the study consumed no more than 20g of processed meat a day then 3% of the premature deaths could have been prevented.

R.Sawas

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