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Consuming meat, cheese as bad as smoking?

Thursday - 3/6/2014, 4:13am  ET

Dr. Susan Levin (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)
Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, discusses health advice on WTOP Wednesday morning. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)

Mortality risks of meat consumption vs. smoking

Susan Levin discusses a recent study on animal protein consumption.

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WASHINGTON -- Eating a cheeseburger may be as dangerous as lighting up a cigarette, according to a new study.

A study published in the journal Cell Metabolism Tuesday found that eating a diet rich in animal proteins -- such as meat, milk and cheese -- makes the consumer more likely to die of cancer than someone with a low-protein, no-cheese diet.

The mortality risk of eating animal sources is comparable to that of smoking, says Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that promotes vegetarian and vegan diets.

"When you smoke, you have about three times the risk of dying as someone who doesn't smoke, and we are seeing at least that here with this study that just came out showing that moderate-to-high animal protein intake does increase your risk of dying from all causes," Levin said on WTOP Wednesday.

The study says middle-aged people who eat lots of proteins from animal sources are more susceptible to early death in general, according to a report from University of Southern California.

Cutting meat and tobacco out of your life can reduce the risk of 23 different types of cancer and chronic diseases, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

"It mimics smoking in a lot of ways," Levin says of the risks.

The study examined how decisions made during middle age can impact people down the road. While high-protein intake during middle age can be harmful, it can be protective for adults older than 65.

The best advice is to eat plant-based proteins such as beans, grains and nuts, says Levin.

"Consuming your proteins from plant sources at any age, even for those who are older and above the age of 65, are going to be doing better at protecting their health," Levin says.

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