New research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine claims cutting out red and processed meat from diets has little to no impact on consumers’ overall health.
The controversial study was backed by data from seven countries including, Canada, England, and the United States.
On average, the research found if 1,000 people were to cut out three servings of both unprocessed red meat and processed meat from their weekly diet over a lifetime or over the course of 11 years, their overall reduction in cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease was insignificant. This suggests that consumption of these meats is not a valid indicator of health, at least when it comes to these chronic diseases.
It’s a finding that goes against the stance of major public health agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), which classifies processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’ This is in agreement with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommends one serving a week of red or processed meat to consumers.
It’s no surpise that the study has attracted many critics, one being The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), who issued a public statement after the study was released claiming the information is misleading.
“The public could be put at risk if they interpret this new recommendation to mean they can continue eating as much red and processed meat as they like without increasing their risk of cancer,” said Dr. Giota Mitrou, Director of Research at WCRF.
In addition, Dr. Nigel Brockton, the vice president of research at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), claims overindulging in processed and red meat could lead to colorectal cancer.
“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,” said Brockton.
Although more scientific opinion backs reducing the consumption of red and processed meat, co-author of the current study, Bradly C. Johnson, says his research paper is not indicating there is no risk at all.
“We’re not saying there is no risk, we’re saying there is only low-certainty evidence of a very small reduction of cancer and other adverse health consequences of reducing red meat consumption,” said Johnson, professor of Epidemiology at the University of Dalhousie to the BBC.
Although there seems to be no single answer, red meat is a nutritious food source containing protein, iron, and zinc — all of which are part of a healthy diet if consumed in moderation. Therefore, removing it from your diet completely may have negative effects on health without significantly reducing the risk of certain diseases.
“The right choice for the majority of people, but not everyone, is to continue their meat consumption,” states Johnston.