In recent years, multiple studies have been released suggesting a link between red and processed meat consumption and health risks, such as cardiovascular disease. Now, a panel of international scientists suggests that most people can continue to eat red and processed meat as they do now without cause for concern. They performed four systematic reviews focused on randomized controlled trials and observational studies looking at the impact of red meat and processed meat consumption on cardiometabolic and cancer outcomes.
In one review of 12 trials with 54,000 people, the researchers did not find statistically significant or an important association between meat consumption and the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. In three systematic reviews of cohort studies following millions of people, a very small reduction in risk among those who had three fewer servings of red or processed meat a week, but the association was uncertain.
The authors also did a fifth systematic review looking at people’s attitudes and health-related values around eating red and processed meats. They found people eat meat because they see it as healthy, they like the taste, and they are reluctant to change their diet.
The research group comprised a panel of 14 members from seven countries. They used a systematic review methodology and GRADE methods, which rate the certainty of evidence for each outcome, to move from evidence to dietary recommendations to develop their guidelines. The five systematic reviews, a recommendation, and an editorial on the topic were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Bradley Johnston, corresponding author on the reviews and guideline, said the research team realizes its work is contrary to many current nutritional guidelines. “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,” said Johnston, associate professor at McMaster and an associate professor of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie. “We focused exclusively on health outcomes and did not consider animal welfare or environmental concerns when making our recommendations.”
In response to the study’s findings, Nigel Brockton, vice president of research at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), said: “We stand by the rigor of our research methodology and our Cancer Prevention Recommendation that people should limit red meat intake to less than 12–18 oz per week and avoid processed meat. The underlying results reported by the NutriRECs group are actually consistent with this advice, but they dismiss these results based on the limitations of some contributing research methods. We believe this is not in the best public interest. Regularly eating processed meat, and higher consumption of red meat, increases your risk of colorectal cancer; suggesting that there is no need to limit these foods would put people at risk of colorectal cancer and further undermine public confidence in dietary advice.”
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