Reducing Red Meat May Not Be Worth It

Reducing Red Meat May Not Be Worth It

Cutting back on red and processed meat brings few if any health benefits, according to a review of evidence drawn from millions of people, but the finding contradicts dietary advice of global agencies and has prompted criticism from many experts.

Dr Giota Mitrou, director of research at the WCRF, said the new interpretation of the research "could be putting people at risk by suggesting they can eat as much red and processed meat as they like without increasing their risk of cancer". The group filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission to stop false statements, citing abundant evidence that links red and processed meat consumption to heart disease, colorectal cancer and increased risk of premature death.

"The authors dismissed massive amounts of observational data", on the grounds that they considered it to be low quality evidence, he says.

The new findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, challenge the legitimacy of the current guidelines, claiming they are based on very low-quality evidence.

A panel of 14 experts was subsequently convened to examine all five reviews, and offer overall recommendations for red meat consumption.

"Based on the research, we can not say with any certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease", said Bradley Johnson, an associate professor at Dalhousie University in Canada who co-led the review published on Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal.

However, using the evidence collected by the review, an worldwide panel of experts have issued new dietary guidelines saying that most adults can keep eating as much red and processed meat as they like - a recommendation that's contrary to almost all other existing guidelines. Professor David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, said: "This rigorous, even ruthless, review does not find good evidence of important health benefits from reducing meat consumption".

Among the randomised trials they selected for analysis, which included around 54,000 people, they found no statistically significant link between eating meat and the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.

It's estimated that adults in North America and Europe typically eat red and processed meat about three to four times per week, the authors said.

But the conclusions are not a go-ahead to eat as much bacon, cold cuts or hamburger as people wanted, one of the editorial co-authors cautioned. And, the studies were mostly observational, so they were limited in the conclusions their researchers could really draw, the authors write. There are many non-vegetarians who are staunch lovers of red meat and it could be hard for them to give up red meat entirely. "This is perplexing, given the ... clear evidence for harm associated with high red meat intake", adds Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition chair Frank Hu.

Lumping red meat and processed meat together is confusing and incorrect, since processed meats and marbled cuts of red meat are a "health-minus", while lean and extra-lean cuts of red meat can provide iron, vitamin B12 and other health benefits, she added.

Other research recently has shown that red meat consumption increases a person's carbon footprint, contributing to global warming.

"Other lines of evidence indicate hazards of processed meat - it is invariably high in salt, which is a proven risk factor for raised blood pressure and cardiovascular disease", Wilson said.

The study roped in 46 people who were asked to reduce consumption of red meat for 12 weeks by replacing it with white meat, fish or a meat alternative or by reducing the intake of red meat itself by half.

In response to the latest guidelines, the World Cancer Research Fund said it would not change its advice.

Marji McCullough, epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, said the researchers had taken into account people's personal values and preferences.

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