Reducing Red Meat May Not Be Worth It


"We stand by our rigorous research of the last 30 years and urge the public to follow the current recommendations on red and processed meat".

Their claims are at odds with recommendations from health organisations including the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which has told people to avoid processed meat altogether or eat very little of it, while limiting red meat to about three portions a week. You can dig right in without worry that you're risking your health, a complex new research study reported on Monday. That's potentially important, since replacing red meat with an equivalent plant protein, like beans or nuts, would likely have a different effect than replacing those calories with refined carbohydrates or other processed foods.

They studied 12 trials with 54,000 people and found no statistically significant or important association between meat consumption and the risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

Most existing dietary guidelines recommend cutting down on these meats, but the authors say the actual risk reductions are often trivial for people lowering their red or processed meat consumption by three servings per week, and any links between meat consumption and negative health effects are uncertain. The study showed that if Canadians reduce our consumption of red or processed meat by half a servicing per week, we could prevent about 8,700 or 16, 600 cancer cases, respectively by 2042.

The paper was based on the research of a 14-strong worldwide team of specialists and published on Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine.

"On the basis of 4 systematic reviews assessing the harms and benefits associated with red meat and processed meat consumption and 1 systematic review assessing people's health-related values and preferences on meat consumption, we suggest that individuals continue their current consumption of both unprocessed red meat and processed meat", the researchers wrote.

Red meat is a staple of the American diet: By U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, the average American adult ate 222 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018.

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But Hu says the panel's methodology is most appropriate for drug research, which relies heavily on randomized controlled trials. He says that by offering up a new guideline, the new papers may confuse people.

Dietary studies are notoriously hard to do because people may not always eat what they say they do or may not remember. "To be honest with our patients and the public, we shouldn't be making recommendations that sound like they're based on solid evidence".

Prof Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, said:"Globally, the evidence indicates that people who eat red and processed meat should limit their intake. People need to be able to make decisions about their own diet based on the best information available", he said. But there is uncertainty: the risk of death could be 15 per cent lower, or it could be that reducing meat consumption does not make you live longer.

"This report has layers of flaws and is the most egregious abuse of evidence that I have ever seen", said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, himself a vegan.

Red meat hasn't been receiving good press lately and now a new study has found that halving the amount of red meat in the diet can reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood further reducing the risk of developing heart disease.

"These kinds of wonky methodological discussions confuse the public and lead to what I call nutritional nihilism - the idea that nutrition science is so confusing that we don't have to pay attention to it", Nestle said.