If you thought steak was a healthy habit for all strong, red-blooded Americans, think again. Despite the myths floating around about how humans can’t be healthy without red meat, the numbers speak a different story. In a study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found that eating red meat increases your risk of death by up to 20 percent, and that vegetable-based diets may actually make you live longer.

Although nutritionists have long known that saturated fats from animal products like red meat and cheese contribute to high cholesterol, diabetes and poor cardiovascular health, there has been little research on longevity and life span. In this study, however, scientists looked beyond illness rates to find a direct links between diet and mortality.

In the large-scale study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public health analyzed the eating habits of more than 37,000 men over 22 years and more than 83,000 women over 28 years. They found that just one daily serving of freshly prepared red meat, like steak, caused mortality rate to jump by 13 percent; just one daily serving of processed red meat, like salami, increased  the probability of dying by 20 percent. Cardiovascular disease and cancer primarily accounted for this increased risk.

So if you’ve been ignoring the fact that meat devastates the environment (it’s the least energy-efficient form of “food” around, not to mention the pollution and water waste) because you figured the “health benefits” were worth it, the excuses are running thin. The more evidence emerges, the more it becomes clear that not only are the beef and pork industries unsustainable for the planet, but their products are unsustainable in the human body, as well.

 image: ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser