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Growing up, many of us bought the myth that a diet heavy in meat is linked to our overall good health. After all, meat is a great source of protein, an essential part of any red-blooded American diet!

As it turns out, Americans have eaten way more protein than they actually need to – since the early 20th century. On average, we consume nearly double the amount of protein we need in a day. Because meat eating is undeniably linked to masculinity and we live in a society where toxic masculinity “punishes” men who don’t conform to the ideal, the risks associated with eating meat (red meat in particular) have lead to men being at a higher risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

The health risks associated with eating meat are so bad that even the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that eating red meat increases one’s risk of several types of cancer and an organization is fighting to have processed meats removed from the school lunch programs in California. Still need more reasons to cut back on meat? Well, a new revealed that eating red meat may increase your risk of dying from nine different diseases – yikes!

The study, which was funded by the Intramural Research Program in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and published in the British Medical Journal, tracked the diets of over 536,000 men and women between the ages 50 and 71, over the course of 16 years. Specifically, they recorded each person’s intake of both processed and unprocessed red meat such as burgers, steak, and bacon and white meat like poultry and fish. According to The New York Times, the study found that compared to the one-fifth of people who ate the least red meat, the one-fifth who ate the most red meat had 26 percent increase in mortality from cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, infections, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, and liver disease.

According to lead author Arash Etemadi, an epidemiologist with the National Cancer Institute, “This is an observational study and we can’t determine whether red meat is responsible for these associations. But we have a 16-year follow-up, and we had the numbers to look at different causes, and we can see that it’s happening.” Although this study is observational, there have been numerous other studies that make the connection between eating red meat and an increase in one’s overall risk for certain diseases that show that we should be eating less meat overall.

Even the federal government no longer recommends meat as part of a healthy diet — instead, MyPlate lists “protein,” which is easily obtained through whole, plant-based foods or through plant-based meat substitutes. So what are you waiting for? Check out how you can get more plant-based protein here.

Image source: Dragon Images/Shutterstock