This week a perplexing new stance on red meat was released — don’t bother watching how much you eat.
The stance shocked many because it runs counter to the message we’ve heard for years from scientists and health care professionals: for better health eat minimal beef and pork.
Eating red or processed meat, the public has long been told, puts you at a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other detriments.
But the authors of four new studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, say there is no compelling evidence that reducing consumption of red or processed meats is beneficial to an individual.
The New York Times spoke with Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University in Canada and leader of the group publishing the new research in the Annals of Internal Medicine, who said: “The certainty of the evidence for these risk reductions was low to very low.”
To tell people to eat less meat based on health risk reduction would “erode public trust.”
Still, it’s important to note these studies were observational. In the case of red meat, researchers asked if meat-eaters were less healthy. It also looked to see if people who ate more meat were also less healthy than those who ate less.
In many studies, it’s difficult to know what someone is eating. Study participants may not remember what they consumed or not accurately report their diets. And meat-eaters may differ from those who don’t eat meat or eat less, in a variety of ways that also influence health.
“Correlation does not equal causation, which is important to remember when reading any scientific article,” said Katherine Carithers, MHA, RD, LDN, a clinical nutrition manager at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “As each consumer determines what information they are going to incorporate into their own dietary pattern, I would recommend they look at the evidence and make a decision based on their own goals and values.”
She notes there are many variables at play regarding someone’s health status. Some of these factors can range from genetics to physical activity levels to hours of sleep per night.
As an example, if a person consuming five servings of lean red or processed meat per week were to reduce their intake to once a week but then replace that with fried chicken and waffles for years indefinitely, there might be other unintended consequences or adverse health effects.
“I would emphasize that people should not interpret any guideline in a vacuum. Consumers should continue to focus on maintaining a healthy weight and challenge their usual dietary and physical activity habits,” Carithers said. “Consider incorporating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna into your diet. These foods are nutrient-rich and often overlooked in the standard American diet.”
For more information on the best diet for your health needs, speak with your health care provider.
Editor’s Note: The group who worked on this study received funding from a university program partially backed by the beef industry.