The question

A shorter life expectancy is among many health risks linked to high consumption of red meat. Might including a lot of fruit and vegetables — which are known for their positive health effects — counteract the risk of premature death caused by a meat-heavy diet?

This study

The researchers analyzed data on 74,645 adults, most in their late 50s or early 60s when the study began. None had a history of cardiovascular disease or cancer. Over a 16-year period, 17,909 of the participants died. The more processed and unprocessed red meat people ate regularly, the more likely they were to have died — 21 percent more likely than those who ate the least meat overall. Early death from a cardiovascular cause was 29 percent more likely among those whose regular diets included the most red meat compared with those who ate the least. Those risks did not change, regardless of whether people regularly ate a low, medium or high amount of fruits and vegetables. The researchers reported finding “no interaction” between red meat and fruit and vegetable consumption.

Who may be affected

People who eat red meat. Research has shown that eating red meat, especially but not limited to processed meat (such as hot dogs and salami), increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer as well as early death. On the other hand, eating fruit and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet may help lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a shortened life span.


Data on food consumption came from the participants’ responses on questionnaires.

Find this study

October issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (ajcn.nutrition.org)

Learn more

Information on healthy eating is available at choosemyplate.gov and eatright.org

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.