If it would stave off heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer, would you swear off bacon and burgers?

A new international simulation projects cutting Americans’ intake of processed meat alone by 30% could head off more than 350,000 cases of diabetes in the United States over 10 years, along with 92,500 cases of heart disease and 53,300 cases of colon cancer.

That’s about 10 slices of bacon a week — a little more than one strip a day at breakfast.

If Americans slashed consumption of red meat by 30% at the same time, the combined health benefit would be even bigger, according to the new study from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — nearly 1.1 million fewer cases of diabetes, 382,400 fewer cases of heart disease and 84,400 fewer cases of colon cancer.

“Cutting consumption of meat has been recommended by national and international organizations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the Climate Change Committee here in the UK and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC,” said co-author Lindsay Jaacks, head of global health and nutrition at the University of Edinburgh.

“Our research finds that these changes in diets could also have significant health benefits in the U.S., and so this is a clear win-win for people and planet,” she added in a Edinburgh news release.

A 30% reduction in intake of red meat alone — roughly one quarter-pounder a week — could prevent more than 732,000 cases of diabetes, 291,500 cases of heart disease and 32,200 cases of colon cancer, the study estimated. 

Statistically speaking, who stands to benefit most? 

White men and those earning $25,000 to $55,000 a year, researchers found.

For the study, they used data from a U.S. government health survey to simulate the health impacts of reduced meat consumption. 

They described their microsimulation as the first to estimate the effects of reducing this consumption on multiple health outcomes in the United States. The study calculated the impact of reductions ranging from 5% to 100%.

Researchers noted that other studies have linked high levels of processed meats in the diet to chronic disease, but few have examined the effect on multiple health outcomes. 

Researchers said their finding that more disease would be prevented by reducing red meat than by cutting back on processed meat has an easy explanation. Americans eat more red meat — 47 grams a day (1.66 ounces) — versus 29 grams (1.02 ounces) a day of processed meat.

The authors noted that their estimates should be interpreted with caution since less is known about how unprocessed red meat affects chronic disease risk. More study is needed, they said.

The findings were published July 3 in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.

More information

The American Diabetes Association has more about diabetes prevention.

SOURCE: University of Edinburgh, news release, July 3, 2024

Source: HealthDay

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