For years, many organizations have been urging consumers to be wary of red meat, promoting that decreasing one’s intake will result in better health and lower the risk of disease. But, according to four new studies, this may not be true. Not that red meat is the healthiest meal, but doctors and experts have said that previous studies do not prove that red meat consumption has a strong correlation with disease. The New York Times reports that the studies, conducted by the Annals of Internal Medicine, prove there is not enough substantial evidence that reducing red meat consumption will improve your health.
Organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Society, and the World Health Organization preached reduction in red meat intake to the masses. Though they’re still sticking to their words, doctors want the public to know that it does not directly correlate and there are many inconsistencies when conducting nutritional experiments. For one, nutritional studies are completely observational and it oftentimes brings unreliable information. And, sometimes, they do not consider the outliers. Participants in these studies are far different, genetically, from one another so who’s to say these differences stem directly from red meat consumption?
The Times explained how most participants struggle to accurately remember and report what they had eaten that day. The author, Gina Kolata, wrote, “even in the best circumstances, observational studies do not prove cause and effect; they only suggest correlations. But policymakers often rely on this data when devising guidelines.”
Additionally, Dr. Dennis Bier told The Times that studies surrounding the risk reduction of consuming less red meat and meat in general are extremely flawed. This is because in nutritional studies, unlike other experiments, scientists are able to control the variables. “You can’t conduct the experiment,” he said. So when people begin giving dietary suggestions, they are not basing these suggestions on evidence more so possibilities.
Another professional, Dr. David Allison, explained to The Times that there is a difference “between evidence for drawing a scientific conclusion, and making or recommending an action.” He continued, “The standards of evidence for the former are scientific matters and should not depend on extra scientific considerations. The standards of evidence for the latter are matters of personal judgement or in some cases legislation.”
There are benefits to consuming less red meat, however consuming less of it does not provide a direct link to a healthy lifestyle. The recent studies do show potential benefits, but the key word here is potential. The Times summarized the study stating, “If people were to reduce meat consumption by three servings a week, there might be one to six fewer heart attacks per 1,000 people. But there would be no effect on deaths resulting from heart disease or any cause over all. For cancer, the group reports that decreasing meat consumption by three servings a week might result in seven fewer cancer deaths per 1,000 people. But there would be no effect on the risk of getting breast, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, pancreatic or prostate cancer.”
Yes, eating less red meat may reduce your risk of heart disease or cancer but a meatless diet cannot guarantee it. Many doctors and experts do agree that as a whole, we should reduce our intake of processed red meat for other personal health benefits such as weight loss and increased energy, and to decrease the amount of green house gasses contributing to the global climate crisis.