A study by researchers at the University of Oxford have revealed that eating processed meat raises the risk of heart disease by a fifth. It is the largest ever analysis of research into the impact of meat consumption on cardiac health.

The researchers have urged people to lower their red and processed meat consumption by three-quarters, or to give it up entirely. According to the study, eating 50g of processed meat, including bacon, ham and sausages, increased the risk of heart disease by 18% owing to its high salt and saturated fat content.

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Th study found that eating unprocessed red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, decreases the risk. It revealed that there was no link found between heart disease and eating poultry, such as chicken and turkey, which are lower in saturated fat.

Anika Knüppel, who is co-lead author of the study, told the Guardian less meat production and its consumption, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, will benefit the environment and bring personal health benefits too.

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She added that there was no agreement on what constituted a safe level, and instead recommended consuming as little as possible, with once a week a possible maximum. 

The research did not establish the reasons the link between heart diseases and meat consumption. But, it is thought that high intakes of saturated fat increase levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, while excess salt consumption raises blood pressure.

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Every year, over 9 million people die globally of coronary heart disease. In the UK, it is 10% and the researchers believe that it could be reduced to 9% if people cut their red meat intake.

The researchers tracked health of more than 1.4 million people for 30 years to establish the link between coronary heart disease and red meat consumption. Most studies were based on white adults living in Europe or the US, with more data required on other populations.