According to the largest ever analysis of research into the impact of meat consumption on cardiac health, eating processed meat raises the risk of heart disease by a fifth.
Reduce your intake
Oxford University researchers are advising the public to reduce the intake of red and processed meat by three-quarters, or desist from eating it entirely, to lower their risk of dying from coronary heart disease.
The team discovered that eating 50g of processed meat, including bacon, ham and sausages, increased the risk of heart disease by 18% due to its high salt and saturated fat content.
This fell to 9% for unprocessed red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, but there was no link found between heart disease and eating poultry, such as chicken and turkey, which are lower in saturated fat.
Anika Knüppel, a co-lead author of the study, said:
We know that meat production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and we need to reduce meat production and consumption to benefit the environment. Our study shows that a reduction in red and processed meat intake would bring personal health benefits too.
She added that there was no agreement on what constituted a safe level, and instead recommended consuming as little as possible, with once a week a possible maximum. She urged policymakers to strengthen public health guidelines to encourage more people to limit their processed red meat intake.
While the research did not establish the reasons for the link, it is believed that high intakes of saturated fat increase levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, while excess salt consumption raises blood pressure, both of which are present in high quantities in processed meat and are well-established risk factors for coronary heart disease.
Nearly 9 million people die every year globally of coronary heart disease, which is caused by narrowed arteries that supply the heart with blood. In the UK, 10% of people are expected to die from coronary heart disease eventually, a figure the researchers suggest could be reduced to 9% if people cut their red meat intake by three-quarters or stopped consuming it.