Published by Heather Moore.

Eating meat can be as hazardous to your health as smoking cigarettes. That’s the conclusion of a new study that links animal protein to an increased risk of early death for people in their 50s and early 60s.

Researchers followed 6,381 people aged 50 and over who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that those aged 50 to 65 who ate high-protein diets—those that are rich in meat, milk, and cheese—were 74 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who ate low-protein diets. People who got their protein from plant sources, such as nuts and beans, fared much better than those who got it from animal sources.

According to Dr. Valter D. Longo, the director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California and the lead author of the study, “The main message is to go to a safe level of protein and try as much as possible to have those proteins come from plant-based products.”

This message shouldn’t come as any big surprise. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the star of the acclaimed documentary Forks Over Knives, has even said that “no chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein.” Previous research shows that meat-eaters are about 40 percent more likely to get cancer than vegetarians are.

Dr. David Katz, the director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, believes that people who shift to a plant-based diet are “likelier to live healthier and experience less chronic disease.”

Like cigarettes, meat, eggs, and dairy products can contribute to cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Other studies have suggested that eating animal-based foods can be as harmful to your health as smoking cigarettes. A Western University study suggests that regular consumption of egg yolks is almost as bad for your heart as smoking because eggs are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can clog your arteries and raise your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Based on the results of these and other studies, it would seem only logical for health authorities to treat the meat, egg, and dairy industries the same way that they treat the tobacco industry—with zero tolerance. But while the government has repeatedly warned people that tobacco products are deadly, banned tobacco-industry billboards and television advertisements, fought for warning labels on tobacco products, and more, it has yet to lobby for warning labels on animal-based foods.

You may want to take your health into your own hands. If you want to prevent cancer and other common diseases—not to mention save animals—try eating more vegan foods. If you need help getting started, check out our tips on how to go vegan.

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