A large new study has tied red and processed meat to cardiovascular disease and death from all causes. It comes on the heels of a controversial fall 2019 investigation recommending that it’s not necessary to reduce the amount of meat they eat.

The researchers analyzed six prospective cohort studies involving about 30,000 adults. Health outcomes were tracked for up to 30 years. Participants who ate two servings a week of processed meat or red meat had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and early death from any cause. 

In contrast, eating fish was not associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease or death from any cause.

The added risks were small but significant, said senior study author Norrina Allen, Ph.D., from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. 

“[I]t’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,” she said. “Red meat consumption also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”

Two servings a week of poultry were also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but the evidence isn’t sufficient to make diet recommendations, the authors said. Preparation such as frying may have influenced the poultry results, they explained.

The authors recommended that people substitute these foods with healthier alternatives. “Fish, seafood and plant-based sources of protein such as nuts and legumes, including beans and peas, are excellent alternatives to meat and are under-consumed in the U.S.,” concluded co-author Linda Van Horn, a member of the 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee.

The study was published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine