By Paula Moore
Red meat in the morning, diners take warning. Red meat at night — nope, that’ll kill ya, too.
As if anyone needed another reason to eat their veggies, here’s one: According to a new Harvard School of Public Health study, eating red meat increases your risk of early death. OK, here’s one more: Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, recently warned that antibiotic resistance could bring about “the end of modern medicine as we know it.” In other words, if the hamburgers don’t kill you, the superbugs spawned on factory farms will.
Unless you want to eat yourself into an early grave, maybe it’s time to go vegan.
After analyzing nearly 30 years of data collected from 121,000 participants, the Harvard researchers found that people who regularly eat red meat are significantly more likely to die prematurely from multiple causes, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The saturated fat in beef, pork and lamb; the nitrites found in processed meats; and the carcinogens that form when meat is cooked at high temperatures all make red meat a health hazard.
How bad is it? According to the Harvard study, eating just one serving of unprocessed red meat (such as hamburger or roast beef) per day increases your risk of early death by 13 percent. One serving is about the size of a deck of cards. Hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats are especially dangerous. One daily serving of processed red meat increases your risk of premature death by 20 percent.
Chicken and fish aren’t so hot, either, so simply replacing red meat with other animal foods isn’t the answer. Even at its leanest—white meat, no skin—chicken gets nearly one-quarter of its calories from fat, much of it the bad kind (saturated). Many types of fish are surprisingly high in saturated fat as well. Fifty-five percent of the calories in salmon come from fat; for swordfish, that figure is 30 percent. In both cases, about 25 percent of the fat is saturated.
In an editorial accompanying the Harvard study, Dr. Dean Ornish (the man who persuaded Bill Clinton to go vegan) reminds us that what’s bad for our health is also bad for the planet. Raising animals for food is a leading contributor to climate change and wastes precious resources. Almost half of the world’s population is malnourished, yet 40 percent of the world’s grain is fed to livestock, not to people.
And remember those superbugs mentioned earlier? Farmed animals are fed a steady diet of drugs—including 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S.—to fatten them up and keep them alive in unsanitary, stressful conditions that would otherwise kill them. As a result, factory farms are breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
So how can we keep from slowly killing ourselves and Mother Earth every time we sit down to dinner? According to the Harvard researchers, eating plant-based foods such as nuts, beans and whole grains instead of red meat can significantly lower our risk of dying young. Replace one serving of red meat with one serving of whole grains, for example, and the risk drops 14 percent.
“Plant-based foods are rich in phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, and other substances that are protective,” explains Dr. Ornish. “In other words, what we include in our diet is as important as what we exclude, so substituting healthier foods for red meat provides a double benefit to our health.”
Eating vegan foods also reduces your carbon footprint. To feel better, live longer and help protect the planet, trading in your burgers for black beans would be a good place to start.