LOS ANGELES — Eating red meat — any amount and any type — appears to significantly increase the risk of premature death, according to a long-range study that examined the eating habits and health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years.
For instance, adding just one 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat — picture a piece of steak no bigger than a deck of cards — to one’s daily diet was associated with a 13 percent greater chance of dying during the course of the study.
Even worse, adding an extra daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, was linked to a 20 percent higher risk of death during the study.
“Any red meat you eat contributes to the risk,” said An Pan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and lead author of the study, published online Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Crunching data from thousands of questionnaires that asked people how frequently they ate a variety of foods, the researchers also discovered that replacing red meat with other foods seemed to reduce mortality risk for study participants.
Eating a serving of nuts instead of beef or pork was associated with a 19 percent lower risk of dying during the study. The team said choosing poultry or whole grains as a substitute was linked with a 14 percent reduction in mortality risk; low-fat dairy or legumes, 10 percent; and fish, 7 percent.
Previous studies had associated red meat consumption with diabetes, heart disease and cancer, all of which can be fatal. Scientists aren’t sure exactly what makes red meat so dangerous, but the suspects include the iron and saturated fat in beef, pork and lamb, the nitrates used to preserve them, and the chemicals created by high-temperature cooking.