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One Major Side Effect of Eating Processed Meat, New Study Says

Step away from the charcuterie board!
meat board

A charcuterie board is one of the best things to enjoy on a Friday night at home or serve at a social gathering (remember those?!). Decked out with an assortment of cured meats and artisan cheeses, it's the ultimate savory spread. As an added bonus, you can whip up a charcuterie board in a flash and still make it feel fancy. However, a recent study may encourage you to cut back on how often you indulge in this beloved appetizer.

New research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that regularly eating processed meat can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This global study collected information from the diets and health outcomes of more than 134,000 people from 21 countries across five continents. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now)

Researchers followed the participants for nearly a decade and found that consumption of 150 grams or more of processed meat each week (or a little more than 5 ounces) was linked to a 46% higher risk of heart disease. It was also associated with a 51% increased risk of death in comparison to those who didn't consume processed meat.

Processed meats include cured meats like pancetta, prosciutto, salami, and Spanish chorizo. Bacon, beef jerky, deli meats, and hot dogs sausages are other examples.

Interestingly enough, a moderate weekly intake of unprocessed meats that either haven't been preserved through curing and smoking or tainted with nitrates had a neutral effect on health. Examples of unprocessed meats include beef, chicken, and lamb, and pork.

Participants were asked to record their dietary habits by answering food frequency questionnaires. Researchers also collected data on major cardiovascular events, including heart attack and mortality.

"Evidence of an association between meat intake and cardiovascular disease is inconsistent," Romaina Iqbal, first author of the study and an associate professor at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, said in a statement.

"We, therefore, wanted to better understand the associations between intakes of unprocessed red meat, poultry, and processed meat with major cardiovascular disease events and mortality."

In short, the study suggests that eating 250 grams (or about 9 ounces) of unprocessed meat each week isn't harmful to overall health. But even eating as little as 5 ounces of processed meat on a weekly basis can significantly increase your risk of heart disease and death.

The researchers note that further study is needed to better understand the relationship between meat consumption and health outcomes. However, limiting your intake of processed meat now isn't a bad idea. Recently, a different study revealed a connection between eating cured meat and dementia.

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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more