Vegetarians have something to hold over their meat-eating friends.
A new study from Harvard University suggests that eating red meat — practically any amount — increases your risk of early death.
According to Harvard, 37,698 men were studied for up to 22 years and 83,644 women were followed for up to 28 years. They were all free of cardiovascular disease and cancer when the study began. A combined 23,926 deaths were documented in both studies — 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer.
"One daily serving of unprocessed red meat (about the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, and one daily serving of processed red meat (one hot dog or two slices of bacon) was associated with a 20 percent increased risk," the university said in an article posted on its website.
The study accounted for chronic disease risk factors such as age, body mass index, physical activity, and family history of heart disease or major cancers.
Excessive consumption of red meat has long been linked to adverse health conditions, but this is the first time research has been published that draws a negative conclusion from practically any consumption of red meat. It's also a massive study, examining tens of thousands of people over decades.
Canadian Dr. Karl Kabasele, a physician independent of the researchers, told the CBC the research also found that substituting other sources of protein, like fish, poultry, legumes or nuts, will reduce your risk of death between 7 and 19 percent.
Kabasele said because the research is so long-running and wide-ranging, it's extremely reliable.
"I think the message here is moderation. We, as a society, probably eat too much red meat if you look at the results of the study," he said. "It's really about balancing your sources of protein."
According to the Los Angeles Times, though, critics were quick to weigh in — among them the American Meat Institute.
It criticized the research for “relying on notoriously unreliable self-reporting about what was eaten and obtuse methods to apply statistical analysis to the data.”