Controversial findings say no need to cut down on red, processed meat

Most people can continue to eat red and processed meat as they do now, according to new clinical guidelines published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia 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, according to the study abstract.

The researchers focused exclusively on health outcomes and did not consider animal welfare or environmental concerns when making their recommendations, according to a press announcement. The authors of the accompanying editorial note that the results are controversial, but believe their recommendations are focused exclusively on health outcomes and did not consider animal welfare or environmental concerns when making our recommendations.

"There is a worldwide interest in nutrition and the issue of red meat in particular,” said Gordon Guyatt, MD, MSc, FRCP, OC, chair of the guideline committee in a statement. “People need to be able to make decisions about their own diet based on the best information available.”

In response to these reviews, several experts have weighed in on the issues raised in the research, including the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who offered their analysis in a recent editorial. Funding of the study was not available at press time.

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