LOMA LINDA, Calif. (KABC) -- It's no surprise that eating large amounts of red meat is considered by most doctors to increase your risk of premature death.
But a new study suggests that even small amounts of unprocessed red meats can lower your life expectancy by nearly 20 percent.
What's considered small? Just one taco per day or two small meatballs per day.
"There's a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that red meat and processed meat may be unhealthy," said Dr. Michael Orlich at Loma Linda University Health. "(It) may increase your risk for a number of diseases, and premature mortality."
The study was conducted by Loma Linda University Health over the past year and a half. It included data from 96,000 men and women from 2002 to 2007. The people questioned in the study were Seventh-day Adventists, already considered to be a population that consists primarily of vegetarians and people who eat small amounts of meat.
But Orlich said the unique and eye-opening aspect to this study, was that the meat-eaters included in it only ate small amounts of meat every day.
"Two ounces of meat a day," said Orlich. "Which is like half a serving a day."
And that group saw its risk of premature death grow by about 18 percent over the group of people who didn't eat any meat.
Orlich said it's important to keep things in perspective, though. While eating very small amounts of red meat may still increase your risk of premature death by 18 percent compared with non-meat eaters, Orlich admits that number pales in comparison to the increased risk of smoking, which he places somewhere between 200-300 percent.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association adds that the study should not be used to recommend dietary changes. The organization released the following statement:
"There is a substantial body of scientific evidence showing beef can be part of a healthy diet. Beef is a great tasting food that provides an essential source of key nutrients like iron, zinc and high-quality protein and helps offset nutritional deficiencies."
For people who aren't vegetarians, the study just might make some difference in how they eat. But not everyone.
"I'm not going to stop eating red meat occasionally," joked Jed Kistner-Morris of Riverside. "I like it, it tastes good."
Small amount of red meat may boost premature death risk by 18 percent, Loma Linda University study says