Processed meat has long been linked with a risk of early death. Greasy, salty servings of bacon, sausages, deli meats and burgers have been thought to be very bad for us. Occasionally, this is lumped in with consumption of unprocessed meat, such as steak and chicken breast, which leads to big, provocative headlines such as "all meat is bad".
Now, a new study goes a long way to confirm that it's processed meats that are the real culprits, whereas a moderate consumption of unprocessed meat sources doesn't appear to impact our health at all.
The study, published by researchers from McMaster University (opens in new tab), examined the diets and health outcomes of 134,297 people from 21 countries. The researchers followed the participants for almost ten years, examining data on meat consumption and cardiovascular illnesses.
The end result was, in some ways, expected. The study found consumption of 150 grams or more processed meat each week was associated with an almost 50 per cent higher risk of heart disease, and a 51 per cent higher risk of early death, than those who ate no processed meat at all. However, one of the biggest surprises was how split this is with those who ate no processed meat at all: moderate levels of consumption of non-processed meats had a "neutral" effect.
"The totality of the available data indicates that consuming a modest amount of unprocessed meat as part of a healthy dietary pattern is unlikely to be harmful," said Mahshid Dehghan, investigator for the Population Health Research Institute.
However, it's too much processed meat such as hot dogs and bacon you want to watch out for. The study concluded "limiting the intake of processed meat should be encouraged", in order to avoid the risk of an early death.
According to a leading cancer charity, Cancer Research UK (opens in new tab), processed meats also come with an increased risk of certain forms of cancer, like bowel cancers. It's been classed as a "group one carcinogen", the same classification as smoking and alcohol consumption.
If you're looking to swap processed meats for unprocessed ones, and cook without adding lots of unhealthy oils and fats, the best grill and best air fryers guides are here to help. Likewise, if you're looking to whizz up a green smoothie to replace some of those unhealthy snacks, our best blenders guide is the place to be.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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