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That Advice About Not Eating Meat? Nevermind!

Controversial review contradicts prevailing wisdom about negative health consequences of red, processed meat consumption

“Beef, it’s what for dinner,” was a successful advertising campaign for the Beef Industry Council that ran during most of the 1990s and into the early 2000s.

But as research tied eating too much red and processed meat with possible links to heart disease and cancer, the beef campaign lost its flavor with consumers.

Now a new report that reviewed evidence drawn from millions of people in North America and Europe, suggests that people who eat red and processed meats three or four times a week don’t risk significant health issues. 

“Based on the research, we cannot say with any certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease,” Bradley Johnston, an associate professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, told Reuters. Johnson co-lead the review published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The review by researchers from Canada, Spain, and Poland included both randomized controlled trials and observational studies. The randomized trials  included 54,000 people. The analysis found no statistically significant link between eating meat and the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.

The observational studies, which included millions of people, did find “a very small reduction in risk” in those that ate three or fewer servings of red or processed meat a week. But, according to the researcher, the association “was very uncertain.”

“Our bottom line recommendation,” Johnston said, “is that for the majority of people, but not everyone, continuing their red and process meat consumption is the best approach.”

Experts from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and even one of the review authors, said that guidelines that could lead people to eating more red and processed meat were irresponsible and asked that the journal “pre-emptively retract publication” of the papers pending further review.

In a statement to Reuters, Frank Hu, M.D., chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said that from a public health point of view, “it is irresponsible and unethical to issue dietary guidelines that are tantamount to promoting meat consumption, even if there is still some uncertainty about the strength of the evidence.”

Christine Laine, editor in chief of Annals of Internal Medicine, told Reuters that nutrition studies are challenging but also mentioned lack of evidence for avoiding meat for health reasons.

“To be honest with our patients and the public, we shouldn’t be making recommendations that sound like they’re based on solid evidence, she said. “There may be lots of reasons to decrease meat in your diet, but if you’re decreasing it to improve your health, we don’t have a lot of strong evidence to support that.”

Source: Reuters, September 30


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