According to a recent study, men who eat moderate amounts of processed red meat may have an increased risk of incidence and death from heart failure.
Heart failure affects nearly 6 million Americans. Over 600,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure each year, making it the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.
Processed meats - including cold cuts such as ham and salami as well as sausage, bacon and hot dogs - are typically preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. They are known to contain sodium, nitrates, phosphates and other food additives. In addition, smoked and grilled meats also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
According to health experts, all of these compounds are likely to contribute to greater risk of heart failure. On the other hand, unprocessed meat is free from food additives and usually contains less sodium.
The Cohort of Swedish Men study was the first to examine the effects of processed red meat separately from unprocessed red meat. It included 37,035 men aged 45-79 years old with no prior history of heart failure, ischemic heart disease or cancer.
Study participants first completed a questionnaire on food intake and other lifestyle factors - and then study researchers followed them from 1998 to the date of heart failure diagnosis, death or the end of the study in 2010.
After almost 12 years of follow-up, researchers established the following:
- Heart failure was diagnosed in 2,891 men, of whom 266 died from heart failure.
- Men who ate the most processed red meat had a 28 percent higher risk of heart failure compared to men who ate the least, after adjusting for multiple lifestyle variables.
- Men who ate the most processed red meat had more than a 2-fold increased risk of death from heart failure compared to men in the lowest category.
- For each 50 gram increase in daily consumption of processed meat, the risk of heart failure incidence increased by 8 percent and the risk of death from heart failure by 38 percent.
- The risk of heart failure or death among those who consumed unprocessed red meat didn't increase.
Results for total red meat consumption are consistent with findings from the Physicians' Health Study, in which men who ate the most total red meat had a 24 percent higher risk of heart failure incidence compared to those who ate the least.
In summary - to reduce your risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases, health experts recommend avoiding processed red meat in your diet as much as possible, and limiting the amount of unprocessed red meat to one to two servings per week or less.
Instead they recommend switching over to a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grain products, nuts and eating more servings of fish.