Swapping meat for fish can cut risk of early death

Exchanging meat for fish in your diet can cut the risk of an early death by up to a quarter, according to a major new international survey.

Research found that men and women who ate fish once a day instead of beef, pork, lamb or other red meat lived longer than those who stuck to their usual meals. The results suggested that replacing processed meat with fish or nuts was particularly beneficial.

The study, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found, that switching one serving a day of processed meat — a sausage or two slices of bacon — for fish lowered the risk of death in the next eight years by 25 per cent. The results were published in the British Medical Journal and have now been reported in The Times, The Guardian and The Sun.

The researchers said their finding provided a practical message to the general public on how a change in diet could improve longevity. They added that although the health risks of red meat have been well publicised, there has been little data on the benefits of switching to healthier alternatives, like fish.

The study was thorough and comprehensive with researchers questioning more than 80,000 men and women aged between 30 and 75 in the US and China about what they ate. The diets of these people were then tracked for eight years. Finally, they looked at how many of the men and women died within the eight-year period and assessed the risk of death in relation to changes in diet.

About 14,000 men and women died during the study, with heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems and dementia and other neuro-degenerative diseases the most common causes. Analysis of the data showed that increasing the overall intake of red meat raised the risk of death by 10 per cent. Eating more unprocessed meat, such as roast beef or pork, increased the odds by 9 per cent; bacon, sausages, salami and other processed meats were associated with a 17 per cent rise.

However, when people cut back on red meat and ate more fish, chicken, eggs and vegetables, their risk of dying over the eight years fell. Substituting one 85g serving of red meat — about three thin slices of roast beef — per day for fish reduced the risk by 17 per cent. Switching from processed meat to fish cut the chance by 25 per cent.

Dr Ian Johnson of Quadram Institute Bioscience said: “The important new point is that adults seem to be able to significantly improve their chances of a longer healthier life by adjusting their diets toward what can be broadly described as a more Mediterranean pattern.”

Professor Tom Sanders of King’s College London called the analysis “important and powerful”. He added that the healthier fats in fish and nuts could explain why they had appeared to be particularly beneficial.