We’ve heard it for years: Cut back on red meat in favour of lean meats like fish or chicken. But now researchers say there’s evidence red meat may not be quite as bad for our health as we have thought.
| THE INDEPENDENT | A rigorous review of the evidence finds little to no health benefit from reducing red or processed meat consumption from average levels. But don’t think this means you can go and eat meet every day.
The findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researchers claim average consumption won’t affect health
While the study seems to fly in the face of decades of research, the study authors actually looked at past research to understand the risks of consuming red meat.
Researchers did not find a statistically significant or important association between meat eating and heart disease, diabetes, or cancer risk after looking at 12 randomised trials involving about 54,000 people.
They found there was less risk for those consuming three fewer servings of red or processed meat per week, although they claim “the association was very uncertain.”
Based on a series of five high-quality systematic reviews investigating the relationship between meat and health, a panel of experts with NutriRECS advises that most people can eat red and processed meat at present average consumption levels. For adults in North America and Europe this means about 3 to 4 times per week.
The researchers were aware that current guidelines on red and processed meat consumption left room for improvement, “particularly with respect to systematic review methodology, and presentation of the absolute magnitude of effect,” which is the absolute risk per 1,000 people followed over time.
After looking at the randomized trials, the researchers discovered that eating meat did not appear to put people at increased risk for a host of health conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
However, after analyzing additional studies with millions of participants, the researchers did find evidence of small reduction in risk.
According to Shelley Wood, MPH, RDN, with the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, there’s recent research investigating cancer risk from the way red meat is prepared.
She said high-temperature cooking like frying and grilling has been associated with potentially carcinogenic chemicals created by the flame and smoke they create. The findings also don’t mean we can eat unlimited amounts of meat.
The bottom line
An examination of several studies involving a very large number of people finds that moderate consumption of red and processed meats doesn’t negatively affect health.
Experts say that this doesn’t mean that eating these foods is necessarily healthy or that we can eat unlimited quantities without consequences. They add that high sodium and saturated fat consumption are still associated with increased health risks.
They also point out the overwhelming positive health impact associated with a plant-based diet that includes generous amounts of fruits and vegetables.