Is red meat bad for your health?

Those results run counter to long established health guidelines to reduce the consumption of red and processed meats due to their links to cancer and poor cardiovascular health.

"The message people need to hear is that we should be eating no more than three portions of red meat a week and avoiding processed meat altogether".

Bonnie Liebman, director of Nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says one of the study's chief flaws is its reliance on the Women's Health Initiative study, a huge analysis of 48,000 women that had half the participants eating their regular diet and half eating a "low-fat diet", which in many cases led to a half an ounce difference in meat consumption per day in the two groups, about a fifth of a hamburger.

These findings led a 14-member panel of experts from seven countries to conclude that adults could continue to eat red and processed meat as they now do.

Research writer Bradley Johnston, affiliate professor at Dalhousie College in Canada, stated: "Based on the research, we can not say with any certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease".

"The panel suggests adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption" while also suggesting that adults "continue current processed meat consumption", according to the study's guidelines.

Propping up his claim, Johnston said: "From 12 randomised controlled trials enrolling about 54,000 individuals, we did not find a statistically significant or an important association in the risk of heart disease, cancer or diabetes for those that consumed less red or processed meat".

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"There are very small risk reductions in cancer, heart disease and diabetes, however, the evidence is uncertain", Bradley Johnston, an epidemiology professor at Canada's Dalhousie University and director of the NutriRECS group that put together the guidelines, told AFP.

They came to the same conclusion about the risks from eating red and processed meat as other researchers, but said the findings were so weak they did not warrant people being told to cut down.

"This is not just another study on red and processed meat, but a series of high quality systematic reviews resulting in recommendations we think are far more transparent, robust and reliable", he said. "The second thing is that even if you accept that red meat's link to cancer risk is causal, it is a very, very small increased risk". 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.

The new guidelines, though "sure to be controversial", were based on the most comprehensive review of the evidence to date, an editorial accompanying the new research noted. In their results, the researchers wrote, "In Canada, there is now a sizeable cancer burden attributable to the consumption of red and processed meat". Their meta-analyses of large cohorts showed that dietary patterns with a moderate reduction in red and processed meat consumption were associated with lower total mortality by 13 percent. In addition, the newly-published study considered only the impact of red meat on human health, excluding considerations of environmental impact or animal welfare. Drug research, in contrast, typically relies on "randomized clinical trials", which involve giving one group of people with a certain condition a medication and another group a placebo-a type of study that allows for more precise identification of a cause-and-effect relationship.

Based on the analyses, a panel of the worldwide researchers said people do not have to cut back for health reasons.

Quadram's Johnson said people who choose to cut down their meat intake might still improve their health by doing so.

Where does this leave us, the eaters who are trying to make good choices? "Can you imagine the cost if you had to. give patients red meat nearly every day for a decade and then convince the other group. not to eat meat for a decade?"

  • Ismael Montgomery