The Controversy of Red Meat: Is It Bad or Not?

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If you often pay attention to health news, you should be no stranger to the flip-flop nutrition suggestions that can make your head spin. One day you are okay to eat carbs, the next day you are wrong to eat them. One day egg is superfood rich in protein and vitamins, the next day it is devil high in cholesterol.



Recently, another confusing example is sending shock waves to the nutrition field, as the new“dietary guidelines recommendation” published in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that you can continue eating red meat, though previous researches suggest red meat is bad for your health.


The controversy of red meat


In 2013, a study published in American Journal of Epidemiology claimed that red meat was associated with all-cause mortality. In 2015, the World Health Organization has listed red meat as a probable carcinogen.



The new study suggested that the risk is so small, and people can continue their red meat consumption habits, though it didn't argue against the link between meat and increased risk for heart disease, cancer and early death.


What the new study said


The study is based on three years of work by a group of 14 researchers in seven countries, along with three community representatives. They looked at randomized trials linking red meat to cancer and heart disease as well as 73 articles that examined links between red meat and cancer incidence and mortality.



They found reducing unprocessed red meat consumption by 3 servings in a week was associated with an approximately 8% lower lifetime risk of heart disease, cancer and early death. But compared to stopping smoking, eliminating hypertension or starting physical activity, reducing red meat consumption is a much smaller change in improved health.


In addition, they claimed that the benefit of reducing unprocessed red meat was so small that people didn’t need to reduce red meat consumption.


This is not to say that the links between meat and all-cause mortality don’t exist. But they are mostly in studies that observe groups of people, which cannot be seen as strong evidence. Although more observational studies can make people more convinced about the study results, these results are still weak evidence.



The complex nutrition


The reason why scientists get controversial results is that nutrition is complex. You cannot quit nutrition just like quitting smoking. After all, you need to eat to live. When you stop eating one thing, you are likely to replace it with another food. What food you choose can be as important to your overall health as the food you stop eating.


For example, beta carotene supplements were believed to prevent disease in observational studies. But in randomized studies, scientists found it was linked with an increased risk for lung cancer. By not holding nutrition sciences to the same bar as other medical sciences, the nutrition field may do you more harm than good.



Should I eat less red meat?


"If you really want to look at the bottom line, nutrition is more about eating patterns and lifestyle than it is about a single, particular food," said Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick.


How the meat is prepared and what is served with the meat are also important, you should never overconsume meat cooked in heavy grease or served with foods high in sodium and saturated fats.


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