Health Care

Meat might not kill you after all, new study says

The recommendations are "sure to be controversial, but [they are] based on the most comprehensive review of the evidence to date", Dr. Aaron Carroll, the associate dean for research mentoring, and Tiffany Doherty, an assistant professor, both at the Indiana University School of Medicine who were not part of the reviews, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

"It's kind of like saying: "we know helmets can save lives, but some people still prefer the feeling of the wind in their hair when they ride bikes". "But everyone agrees you should wear a helmet, because public health recommendations are based on their effects on the population".

However, using the evidence collected by the review, an global panel of experts have issued new dietary guidelines saying that most adults can keep eating as much red and processed meat as they like - a recommendation that's contrary to almost all other existing guidelines. The authors of these new studies judge the evidence to be weak, and the risks "very small".

When it comes to heart health, red meats have always been shunned for their high fat content.

One of the more divisive aspects of the research is the fact the fundamental conclusion was based on relatively low meat consumption levels.

The full package of five evidence reviews and the expert panel's recommendation was published online October 1 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the journal of the American College of Physicians.

Current estimates indicate that adults in North America and Europe eat red meat and processed meat about three to four times a week, researchers said in background notes.

Liam Byrne, Head of Meat Marketing at AHDB, said: "It is heartening to have a positive report about red meat - and one which is being so widely welcomed by academics as being robust".

Dr Nigel Brockton, vice president of research at AICR, said: "We stand by the rigour of our research methodology and our cancer prevention recommendation that people should limit red meat intake to less than 12 to 18oz per week and avoid processed meat".

It did, as it turns out.

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"From 12 randomised controlled trials enrolling about 54,000 individuals, we did not find a statistically significant or an important association in the risk of heart disease, cancer or diabetes for those that consumed less red or processed meat".

Although there was some evidence for a small reduction in risk for those consuming three fewer portions a week, "the certainty of evidence was low to very low", he added.

The authors acknowledged the limitations of their approach, the low quality of the evidence and that their conclusions were tentative, but Prof Mann was "not persuaded that it is even appropriate to suggest on the basis of these data that red meat may have little or no effect on disease incidence and mortality".

The team - which included 14 experts from seven countries - said their analysis offered the "most up-to-date evidence on the topic". They didn't take into account ethical or environmental reasons. "They conclude that from a health point of view, there seems to be no reason to change meat consumption".

However, there appears to be little prospect of any change in official Government advice on the back of this research. But there is uncertainty: the risk of death could be 15 per cent lower, or it could be that reducing meat consumption does not make you live longer.

The new research runs counter to a 2015 World Health Organization evidence review, which concluded that processed meat is a proven carcinogen and red meat is a probable carcinogen, based on the evidence for colorectal cancer, McCullough said.

"The guidelines are based on papers that presumably say there is evidence for what they say, and there isn't", said Dr Dennis Bier, director of the Children's Nutrition Research Centre at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and past editor of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Public Health England officials told BBC News they had no intention of reviewing their advice on limiting meat intake.

It's no secret that red meat may drive a variety of health issues, but advice to cut the food product entirely out of one's diet is too drastic for many people to consider.

"The study shows evidence suggesting red meat can have an adverse effect on health is weak, at best, and certainly not strong enough to confidently suggest lifestyle changes for those perceived to eat more than the recommended weekly amount of 500g".

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