Men who eat a lot of bacon, ham and sausages could be damaging their hearts and heading for an early grave, new research has shown.
A large study of more than 37,000 men found that processed meat significantly increases the risk of death from heart failure.
Those consuming the most − 75 grammes per day or more − were twice as likely to die from heart failure than those who ate 25 grammes or less.
“We suggest avoiding processed red meat in your diet, and limiting the amount of unprocessed red meat to one to two servings per week or less”
Every extra 50 grammes of processed meat, the equivalent of one or two slices of ham, increased heart failure risk by 8% and the chances of dying from the condition by 38%.
Last year a study of half a million people from 10 European countries concluded that diets high in processed meat raised the risk of heart disease, cancer and early death.
Processed meat has also been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer.
The new research, conducted in Sweden, is the first to distinguish between the effects of processed and unprocessed red (non-poultry) meat.
It found that, while processed meat had a big impact on heart failure and death rates, the same was not true of unprocessed meat.
The study authors defined processed meats as those preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Examples included cold cuts, such as ham or salami, sausages, bacon and hot dogs.
Study participants completed questionnaires asking about diet and other lifestyle factors and were monitored for almost 12 years.
Lead author Dr Joana Kaluza, from the Department of Human Nutrition at Warsaw University of Life Sciences, said: “To reduce your risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases, we suggest avoiding processed red meat in your diet, and limiting the amount of unprocessed red meat to one to two servings per week or less.
“Instead, eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grain products, nuts and increase your servings of fish,” she said.
The findings are published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure.
Although the study only involved men, the researchers said the same trends are likely to be seen in women.
Men taking part in the study were aged 45 to 79 with no previous history of heart failure, heart disease or cancer.
Over the 12-year follow-up period, 2,891 of the men were diagnosed with heart failure and 266 died from the condition.
Government health guidelines recommend eating no more than 70 grammes of processed meat, or two slices of bacon, a day.