As Americans get ready to whip out the grilling tongs for Father’s Day weekend, a new study warns that moderate amounts of processed red meat may increase men’s risk of heart failure.

Heart failure – which occurs when the heart muscle can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs – affects about 5.7 million Americans. Roughly half of those patients die within five years of diagnosis.

The new study, in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal, is the first to look at effects of consuming processed red meat (such as cold cuts or sausage) apart from unprocessed red meat like pork or veal. Processed meats, which also includes hot dogs, bacon and salami, are preserved by curing, smoking, salting or adding preservatives.

The researchers found that men who ate the most processed red meat (75 grams per day, or about one and a half hot dogs), had a 28 percent higher risk of heart failure compared with men who ate the least (25 grams per day, or about half a hot dog). In all, men who ate the most processed red meat had a 2.43 times higher risk of death from heart failure compared with men in the lowest category.

“The impact of processed red meat on heart failure is a result of both sodium content and food additives which are commonly added to processed meat,” said study author Dr. Joanna Kaluza of the Department of Human Nutrition at Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Warsaw, Poland. “To prevent risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular disease, and also to prevent cancer, people should reduce consumption of red meat to the minimum and avoid consumption of processed meat and grilled meat.”

Additives such as phosphates that are common in processed red meat may increase the risk of heart failure, Kaluza said. In addition, chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when meat is cooked at high temperatures such as grilling and may increase heart failure risk, she said.

Kaluza said that eating processed red meat occasionally, such as at a party or celebration, should not be detrimental. “Consumption of processed red meat once a week or less should not have an adverse affect on our health,” she said.

The American Heart Association guidelines suggest eating less than 6 ounces per day of lean meat, skinless chicken and fish. The guidelines encourage eating fish (3.5-ounce serving) at least twice a week, preferably fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, trout and herring.

The study involved 37,035 men ranging in age from 45 to 79 who had no history of heart failure, ischemic heart disease or cancer.

The men completed questionnaires about their diets and meat consumption, with processed meat questions focusing on sausages, cold cuts (ham and salami), blood pudding and sausages, and liver pate. Unprocessed meat questions involved pork, beef/veal and minced meat. (In Sweden, hamburger or ground beef are generally prepared without food additives such as nitrates or phosphate.)

Starting in 1997, the researchers followed the men until the date of diagnosis of heart failure, death or the conclusion of the study in 2010.

To reduce heart failure risk, Kaluza emphasized that cutting back on processed red meat is just one component.

“Moreover, they should include to the diet fruit, vegetables, whole grains products as well as focus on higher fish consumption.”

Additives such as phosphates that are common in processed red meat may increase the risk of heart failure, Kaluza said. In addition, chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when meat is cooked at high temperatures such as grilling and may increase heart failure risk, she said.

Kaluza said that eating processed red meat occasionally, such as at a party or celebration, should not be detrimental.

The American Heart Association guidelines suggest eating less than 6 ounces per day of lean meat, skinless chicken and fish. The guidelines encourage eating fish (3.5-ounce serving) at least twice a week, preferably fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, trout and herring.

The study involved 37,035 men ranging in age from 45 to 79 who had no history of heart failure, ischemic heart disease or cancer.

The men completed questionnaires about their diets and meat consumption, with processed meat questions focusing on sausages, cold cuts (ham and salami), blood pudding and sausages, and liver pate. Unprocessed meat questions involved pork, beef/veal and minced meat. (In Sweden, hamburger or ground beef are generally prepared without food additives such as nitrates or phosphate.)

Starting in 1997, the researchers followed the men until the date of diagnosis of heart failure, death or the conclusion of the study in 2010.

To reduce heart failure risk, Kaluza emphasized that cutting back on processed red meat is just one component.

“Eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grain products, nuts and increase your servings of fish,” she said.

So, for all those Americans who’ve already got the ketchup, onions and relish ready to serve, what does this news mean for Father’s Day?

Break out the salmon burgers.

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