People who eat red meat every day have a higher risk of dying over a 10-year period — mostly because of cardiovascular disease or cancer — than their peers who eat less red or processed meat, according to a study of about half a million people.

In the study, a research team led by Rashmi Sinha, PhD, from the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Md., looked at more than 500,000 people who were aged 50 to 71 when they enrolled in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health study.

Over a 10-year period, people who ate the most red meat every day (about 62.5 grams per 1,000 calories per day, equivalent to a quarter-pound burger or small steak per day) had about a 30 percent greater risk of dying compared with those who consumed the least amount of red meat (a median of 9.8 grams per 1,000 calories per day). The excess mortality was mostly the result of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The red meat in the study included all types of beef and pork, such as bacon, cold cuts, ham, hamburgers, hot dogs and steak, as well as meat in pizza, chili, lasagna and stew.

In addition, those who ate the largest amounts of processed meat (defined as about 22.6 grams per 1,000 calories per day of bacon, red-meat sausage, poultry sausage, cold cuts, ham, regular hot dogs and low-fat hot dogs) also had a slightly higher mortality risk than those who consumed the least.

In contrast, people who ate the most white meat seemed to have a slightly lower mortality risk during the study than those who consumed the least amount of white meat. White meat included chicken, turkey and fish, as well as some poultry products and canned tuna.

Click here to see the full story from the American Meat Institute.

As you might expect, this study drew harsh criticism from the folks who represent the folks who produce meat. But not for the reasons you might expect. James H. Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute, says single studies — such as this one — should not be used to draw major conclusions and cites results of several other studies showing that meat fits well in a balanced, healthy diet.

Hodges continues with some facts about meat that you might expect — that meat is part of a balanced diet, and is an excellent source of zinc, iron, B12 and other essential vitamins and minerals. But Hodges also sheds a little light on the way the study was conducted — which apparently was concocted in a very dark place by some very inexperienced researchers.

According to AMI, the researchers asked people to recall what they ate over the previous 12 months and to record it into a 35-page, detailed questionnaire. Notably, the front page of the questionnaire says “Answer each question as best you can. Estimate if you are not sure. A guess is better than leaving a blank.” After 10 years and after receiving questionnaires only at the outset, the five-year mark and the 10-year mark, the researchers tried to correlate dietary factors with deaths.

“No doubt many participants guessed extensively in an effort to recall five years of habits and answer 35 pages of questions. Health conclusions and public policy recommendations should not be based on mere guesses,” Hodges said.

I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday — let alone over the past five years — although it’s safe to say that lunch usually includes a little meat. I also took a college course on research, but, as with lunch yesterday, I don’t remember the segment on how to include 5-year-old guesses in research results. — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.