Men who gorge on 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 grams per day or more – were twice as likely to die from heart failure than those who ate 25 grams or less.
Every extra 50 grams of processed meat, the equivalent of one or two slices of ham, increased heart failure risk by 8 per cent and the chances of dying from the condition by 38 per cent.
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 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.
“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,” Polish lead scientist Dr Joana Kaluza, from the Department of Human Nutrition at Warsaw University of Life Sciences said.
“Instead, eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grain products, nuts and increase your servings of fish.”
The findings are reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure.
Although the study only involved men, the researchers say the same trends are likely to be seen in women.
Heart failure, which often follows a heart attack, occurs when the heart becomes too weak to pump blood around the body efficiently.
Although not necessarily fatal, it can lead to death from fluid in the lungs or an irregular heart beat.
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, 2891 of the men were diagnosed with heart failure and 266 died from the condition.
Earlier this week, US researchers who studied 89,000 women aged 24 to 43 said that consuming a lot of red meat in early adult life may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer.
But experts urged caution over the report, in the British Medical Journal, because the link was weak.