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Hot dogs and hamburgers are as American as the Fourth of July, but if you celebrate the holiday by firing up those foods on the grill, you may be risking your life. According to a study in the British Medical Journal, people who ate at least half a serving of red meat per day had about a 10% greater chance of premature death.

The researchers looked at data analyzing the eating habits and mortality risk of 53,553 women and 27,916 men in the United States between 1986 and 2010. The data tracked the amount of red meat and other foods adults ate every four years by using self-reported questionnaires and then calculated change in eating habits over time.

The researchers found that within eight years, those who ate at least half a serving per day of processed red meat had a 13% higher risk of premature death and those who ate at least half a serving of unprocessed red meat were at a 9% greater risk of an early death. Those who ate less red meat and more whole grains, vegetables or other protein sources had a lower risk of death during an eight-year time period.

Lindsey Montgomery, clinical dietitian at Moffitt Cancer Center, says it’s important to note that the data associated with this study showed correlation, not causation, in regard to increased red meat consumption and mortality.

Red meat alternatives for the grill:

• Eggplant

• Vegetable kebabs

• Portobello mushrooms

• Bean burgers

Montgomery explains that nutrition is specific to the individual, and needs and tolerances vary from person to person. However, for the general population, she recommends a diet that is balanced and includes a wide variety of foods, and to include all foods in moderation.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends limiting intake of red meat to less than 18 ounces per week. The AICR also advises limiting the intake of processed red meats such as bacon, salami and hot dogs as these have been correlated with an additional increased risk of developing certain diseases.

Montgomery offers the following tips on how to cut back on red meat consumption:

  • Start slowly. It is better to develop a habit that is maintainable in the long term, and if you are accustomed to having five to six servings of red meat each week, then cutting it out of your diet completely may seem like an insurmountable task. Start by cutting out the red meats that are the worst types (hot dogs, bacon, sausage).
  • Cut portions in half. For example, if you typically have a double hamburger, choose a single patty or use half beef and half chicken for taco meat. You could take it a step further and choose a black bean burger versus beef burger.
  • Choose one day per week to go meatless. Ever heard of Meatless Mondays? It’s a worldwide movement with a simple message: One day a week, cut the meat.
  • Build meals around vegetables and whole grains. Instead of filling your plate first with meat, fill it with vegetables — at least half — then add whole grains. If you choose to have 

Scientists say more research is needed to determine why red meat consumption is linked to a higher mortality rate.