Red meat unhealthy? Maybe not, review says

WASHINGTON • Eating less red meat is standard medical advice to prevent cancer and heart disease - but a review of dozens of studies has concluded that the potential risk is low and evidence uncertain.

In new guidelines published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a panel of researchers from seven countries suggested that adults continue current unprocessed and processed red meat consumption. The advice drew an immediate sharp reaction from other experts.

The review, published on Monday in the journal edited by the American College of Physicians, analysed studies that, taken together, showed reducing red meat consumption by three servings per week could lower cancer mortality by seven deaths per 1,000 people.

Researchers said any such fall was modest and they had found only a "low" degree of certainty about the statistic. Also, the quality of evidence linking processed meat with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes was "very low".

"There are very small risk reductions in cancer, heart disease and diabetes. But the evidence is uncertain," said epidemiology professor Bradley Johnston at Dalhousie University and director of NutriRECS, the group that put together the guidelines. "So there may be a reduction - or there may not be. People need to make their own decisions. We are giving them the best estimate of the truth."

The researchers said they want to change the "old school" approach of giving general nutritional recommendations, and to bring more focus on evidence of individual benefit. "People should look at this and hopefully make more well-informed personal choices, rather than being told what to do by authoritative organisations," Dr Johnston said.

Eating less red meat and processed meat has been a cornerstone of dietary recommendations in many countries and from leading health groups for decades.

In response to the latest guidelines, the World Cancer Research Fund said it would not change its advice that processed meat is carcinogenic.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2019, with the headline 'Red meat unhealthy? Maybe not, review says'. Subscribe