A recent study based on the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) has allegedly identified a “moderate positive association” between processed meat consumption and mortality due to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other causes. Sabine Rohrmann, et al., “Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition,” BMC Medicine, March 2013. Relying on EPIC data from 448,568 healthy adults between ages 35 and 69, researchers reported that consuming more than 160 grams (approximately 5.6 ounces) of processed meat per day was related to moderately higher all-cause mortality. In particular, they estimated “that 3.3 % ... of all deaths could be prevented if all participants had a processed meat consumption” of less than 20 grams (0.7 ounces) per day.
The study’s authors noted, however, that unlike similar studies undertaken in the United States, their analysis did not find any association between red meat intake and mortality. To account for these differences, they speculated that processed meats typically “have a higher content of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol than fresh red meat” in addition to being salted, cured or smoked. “These processes… lead to an increased intake of carcinogens or their precursors (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic aromatic amines, nitrosamines) or to a high intake of specific compounds enhancing the development of carcinogenic processes (for example, nitrite),” concludes the study. “The difference between the US studies and our result is likely due to the stronger risk estimates observed in the US cohorts compared with our cohort, but may also be explained by higher meat consumption in the US than in Europe.”