Study Links Processed Meats With Early Death

Processed meats may cause cancer, cardiovascular disease.

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Put down that Slim Jim and no more bologna sandwiches—a new study has found that people who regularly consume processed meats are more likely to die early than people who don't regularly eat those foods.

The study, published in the European journal BMC Medicine, comes on the heels of a 2012 Harvard University study that found people who ate just 1.5 ounces of red meat daily were more likely to die early deaths than people who ate less than that. The latest study, which chronicled more than 500,000 people from 10 European countries, found those who ate the most processed meats (including ham, bacon, sausages, and ready-to-eat packaged meats) were most likely to die prematurely.

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"We estimated that 3.3 percent of deaths could be prevented if all participants had a processed meat consumption of less than [.7 ounces a day]," write the authors, from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.

People who ate more than five ounces of processed meats daily were more likely to die of cardiovascular diseases and cancers than people who ate fewer processed meats. Many processed meats contain carcinogens "or their precursors," according to the study.

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People who consumed the most processed and red meats had the lowest fruit and vegetable intake and were also more likely to be current smokers. The authors say that after correcting for these lifestyle differences, people who eat processed meat are still more likely to die early than people who don't, but that they saw no increased risk of mortality for people who ate large amounts of red meat. In the original Harvard University study, the researchers considered all processed meats to be red meats.

The researchers suggest that vegetarians might have cause for worry as well: "It appears a low—but not a zero—consumption of meat might be beneficial for health," they write.

"A sub-optimal supply of some of [the] nutrients [provided by meat] due to an unbalanced type of vegetarian diet seems possible and might be associated with an increased risk for morbidity and mortality," they write.

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