By Dan Satherley
Steak, bacon, ribs and hot dogs – however you choose to eat your meat, it's bad for you. Or it isn't – it all depends on who you ask.
According to new research by the Harvard School of Public Health, eating any red meat increases the likelihood of premature death.
The results of the 20-year study were published online on Monday, and paint a bleak picture for anyone who enjoys a good, meaty barbecue.
Over 120,000 physicians and nurses were surveyed, and those who ate the most red meat were more likely to die over the course of the study.
Adding a daily piece of steak no bigger than a deck of cards to a person's diet was associated with a 13 percent higher risk of death, and adding a daily serving of processed meat – like a hot dog or two slices of bacon – led to a risk 20 percent higher.
“With evidence piling up against red meat, the associations we found were not surprising,” Dr Frank Hu, who co-authored the study, told the Boston Globe.
“What surprised us was the magnitude of the association. I think it should convince people to change to a more plant-based diet where red meat isn’t major component.”
The study found that those who ate nuts, fish poultry and whole grains instead of red meat had between 7 percent and 19 percent reduced risk of death during the study.
Beef + Lamb NZ, which represents New Zealand sheep and farmers, refuted the study's findings, saying it had "little significance" to Kiwis.
It claimed the methods used in the study were "known to be inaccurate and unreliable".
“The results of a single study never change dietary advice or recommendations, and this is no exception," says nutrition manager Fiona Carruthers.
"New Zealand beef and lamb contribute significant amounts of several nutrients to the diets of New Zealanders. Kiwis should therefore continue to enjoy red meat three-four times a week as part of an overall healthy lifestyle."
She called the researchers' conclusions "misleading", saying other studies have shown "no link at all" between eating red meat and mortality.
An article accompanying the study suggested something as simple as "Meatless Monday" could help, and that reducing consumption of red meat would not only benefit public health, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Many people are surprised to learn that animal agribusiness generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined," wrote Dr Dean Ornish.
Reducing demand for red meat would allow forests cleared for pasture to be replanted, he says, as well as freeing up more grains for human consumption, helping reduce worldwide malnutrition.
"Choosing to eat more plant-based foods and less red meat is better for all of us — ourselves, our loved ones, and our planet," writes Dr Ornish.