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Processed Meat Linked To Early Death In Study

A diet packed with pies, sausages and ready meals can lead to an early death, research involving half a million people suggests.

The major study, based on findings in 10 European countries, highlights links between red and processed meats and heart disease and cancer.

People who eat more than 160g of these products in a day - the equivalent of about three sausages - have a much greater chance of dying prematurely, findings suggest.

The chance of dying - from any cause - was 44% greater for those people, according to the report published in the journal BMC Medicine.

High processed meat consumption led to a 72% increased risk of dying from heart disease, and an 11% increased risk of dying from cancer.

Study leader Professor Sabine Rohrmann, from the University of Zurich in Switzerland, said: "Overall, we estimate that 3% of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20g of processed meat per day."

The results were published in the wake of the horsemeat scandal which has caused people to question the origins of their food.

Over the follow-up period a total of 5,556 participants died from heart and artery disease, 9,861 from cancer, and 1,068 from respiratory diseases.

In general, diets high in processed meat were linked to unhealthy lifestyles - men and women who ate the most processed meat ate the fewest fruits and vegetables, and were more likely to smoke.

The researchers adjusted the data to take account of these and other factors that might have influenced the results.

However, eating small amounts of red meat appeared to be beneficial - with authors pointing out that apart from harmful saturated fat and cholesterol, it contains essential nutrients and minerals that might be missing from a vegetarian diet.

Dietician Tracy Parker, from the British Heart Foundation (BHF), called on people to use leaner cuts of meat and to cook meat under the grill rather than fry it.

"If you eat lots of processed meat, try to vary your diet with other protein choices such as chicken, fish, beans or lentils," she added.

It is not the first study to point to the dangers of too much red and processed meat - a major US report  last year said they can dramatically increase the risk of death from heart disease and cancer.