Over the years, red meat has been linked to many serious medical conditions, including heart disease, cancers and even age-related macular degeneration, a condition that leads to blindness. Research shows again and again that the more red meat you eat, the higher your risk of developing a chronic disease and the greater your risk of dying an early death. It's not a pretty picture.

A broad study, performed by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in a 2009 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, followed the eating habits and medical records of more than half million men and women age 50 to 71 who belong to AARP (formerly, the American Association of Retired People). Based on the information they collected over the course of ten years, the researchers concluded that the increased risk of death and, specifically, death from heart disease or cancer, from eating red meat is modest but real. In the same study, they found that people who eat more fish and white meat, such as chicken or turkey, had lower risks of early death from chronic diseases.

Dr. Rashmi Sinha, a senior researcher in the NIH study, says that based on this study, she can say that the higher death rate for people who eat more than 4 ounces of meat every day would drop by as much as16 percent for women and 11 percent for men if they cut their consumption down to less than one ounce a day. 

Sinha and other researchers offer a variety of reasons why eating too much red meat can harm your health. The most well known and commonly accepted reason is that red meat is high in saturated fats that are known to raise levels of blood cholesterol and contribute to plaque build-up in the arteries that raises blood pressure and reduces blood flow to the heart. Saturated fat is also thought to promote lung, breast and other types of cancer. Fresh and processed meats contain naturally occurring and added chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic at high cooking temperatures. Iron, an essential nutrient found in red meat, is also thought to be involved in the production of cancer-causing compounds.

The bottom line: There's no reason to cut meat out of your diet altogether, but there appear to be plenty of good reasons to cut back if you're eating red meat every day. The results of the NIH study also showed that people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet that consists mostly of fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, beans and other legumes, unsaturated fats such as olive oil and a lot less meat, dairy and alcohol than the average American diet, have a much lower risk of dying early from any type of chronic disease.


Red meat and macular degeneration:



Meat Intake and Mortality:



NIH Diet and Health Study



National Cancer Institute/A Talk with Dr. Rashmi Sinha  (lead investigator of the Meat/Mortality study):



Red and processed meat and death:



Red meat and bowel/lung cancer:



Red meat and breast cancer:



NIH: Mediterranean Diet