Researchers found that the more servings of processed or unprocessed red meat people reported eating daily, the higher their chance of dying over more than a 20-year span.
Red meat and especially processed red meat contains a lot of compounds and chemicals that have been linked to chronic disease risk," said Dr. Frank Hu, one of the study's authors from the Harvard School of Public Health -- and cooking red meat produces more carcinogens.
Research has suggested that the saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat is linked to plaque buildup in the arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease. Eating more meat was associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer in another recent study.
Hu and his colleagues used data from two large, ongoing studies of U.S. doctors and nurses who filled out regular questionnaires about their typical eating habits as well as physical activity, smoking and family history.
The current report includes information from about 38,000 middle-aged men followed for an average of 22 years after their first survey and 84,000 women tracked for 28 years.
The lightest meat eaters reported getting half a serving or less of meat per day, while the study's biggest meat-lovers had red meat twice or three times daily.
Three ounces of unprocessed meat, one hot dog or two slices of bacon was counted as a serving.
About 24,000 study participants died over the two-plus decades that researchers followed them. Hu and his team calculated that the chance of dying was 12 percent higher for every extra serving of red meat the men and women had eaten each day.
Each extra serving was also tied to a 16 percent higher chance of dying from cardiovascular disease, in particular, and a 10 percent higher chance of dying from cancer.
That was after taking into account other aspects of health and lifestyle that could influence participants' chances of dying, like weight and smoking, as well as the rest of their diet and various socioeconomic factors.
Substituting one daily serving of red meat with fish, poultry, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy products or whole grains was tied to a seven to 19 percent lower chance of death, Hu and his colleagues reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
We're not talking about everyone becoming a vegetarian -- I think a small amount of red meat is still okay as part of a healthy diet," he said.
We're talking about no more than two or three servings of red meat a week. Basically, red meat should be an occasional part of our diet and not a regular part of our diet."