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Too Much Meat Linked with a Greater Risk of Early Death

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Eating too much meat may lead to an early grave. 

A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland confirms previous evidence that a diet that focuses on animal products and meat in particular is not good for health. Ample protein of animal origin relative to plant protein-eating individuals had an increased risk of dying during the follow-up of the study. They were compared to those with more balanced levels of protein in vegetable and animal products. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition .

In men with dietary protein sources predominantly of animal origin, there was a 23% higher risk of dying during follow-up compared to men who had a reasonable level of animal protein relative to plant protein. In particular, abundant meat consumption seemed to be harmful: people with a high diet, ie more than 200 g of meat per day, had a 23% higher risk of dying during follow-up than those with a diet less than 100 g per day. The meat eaten by the subjects was mainly red meat. In current Finnish nutrition recommendations, the recommended use of red and processed meat is up to 500 g of mature meat per week.

An almost 3.3 lbs (1.5kg) filet mignon “beef”

Bife de Lomo (5383969209).jpg
Credit: Diego Torres Silvestre / Wikimedia Commons

The study also found that a high total protein diet was associated with a higher risk of mortality in people with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start of the study. No similar relationship was found in those who did not have these diseases. The results therefore warrant a study of the health effects of protein intake, especially in those who already have chronic disease. In this study, the mean age of men at the start of the study was 53 years, and clearly low protein intake was rare. Doctoral researcher Heli Virtanen points out that results should not be generalized to elderly people who are at increased risk of malnutrition and protein intake is often lower than recommended.

Previous studies have suggested that abundant consumption of animal protein and especially processed meat, such as sausage and slices, is associated with an increased risk of mortality. However, the overall picture of the health effects of consumption of protein and various protein sources has been unclear.

The study published today included a coronary artery disease risk study (SVVT), in which about 2600 42-60-year-old eastern Finnish males were diagnosed at the start of the study in 1984-1989. The mortality rate of the subjects was monitored on average over 20 years from Statistics Finland’s registers. The analyzes looked at the relationship between diet proteins and protein sources to mortality during follow-up. Analyzes took full account of other lifestyle and nutritional habits of the subjects – for example, the fact that the diet of high-protein-eating people was healthier than average.

Contacts and sources:
Heli Virtanen, M.Sc / Jyrki Virtanen, PhD
University of Eastern Finland

Citation: Dietary proteins and protein sources and risk of death: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.
Heli E K Virtanen, Sari Voutilainen, Timo T Koskinen, Jaakko Mursu, Petra Kokko, Maija P T Ylilauri, Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen, Jukka T Salonen, Jyrki K Virtanen. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2019; DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz025


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