TRIGGER ALERT! Just a warning to all my readers who are plant-based dieters, vegans, vegetarians and avoiders of red meat. If you’re trying to save the world or those of us who live in it by promoting plant-based eating or you just like crusading against meat for whatever reason, this article may not be for you.
In fact, as it turns out, science may not be “for” you and your cause, either.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against plant-based dieters, vegans or vegetarians. Some of them are friends of mine (the ones who don’t prattle on about how it will save the planet, is morally superior or whatever, that is.)
Rising in opposition to all the advice and previous studies about red and processed meat is a massive, five-part systematic review of previous research into the health effects of eating red and processed meat. This massive project revealed an unexpected result.
Most people can go right on eating red and processed meat as they do now, since reducing intake will have little impact on health.
The study was led by Dalhousie and McMaster Universities in Canada, along with researchers from Poland, Spain, the Netherlands and South Korea.
They reviewed the evidence from studies involving millions of people and came up with the recommendation that most adults go right ahead and keep eating the red and processed meat that makes their taste buds happy. Change nothing.
Their body of work is comprised of five different systematic reviews of previous research. Four of those reviews involved randomized, controlled studies as well as observational studies considering the impact of red and processed meat consumption on cardiometabolic and cancer outcomes.
In three of those reviews, there was a reduction of the risk of diabetes, heart disease or cancer in those folks who ate three fewer servings of red or processed meat a week. The noted reduction was barely statistically significant and the association was uncertain, at best. The cohort studies involved followed millions of people, making the sample size highly significant.
The fourth review covered 12 separate trials involving 54,000 people. Here, researchers could find no statistically significant or important link between meat consumption and elevated risk of diabetes, cancer or heart disease.
A fifth systematic review by the research team looked at the attitudes and health-related values of people with regard to eating red and processed meats. It turns out that people eat meat because they like the way it tastes, have some reluctance to make wholesale changes to their diets and they see it as healthy.
The systematic reviews, along with a recommendation and an editorial from the research team were published September 30, 2019 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Professor Gordon Guyatt of McMaster University chaired the guideline committee. He said the 14 member panel, made up of scientists from 7 countries, employed a rigorous systematic review methodology. The evidence for each outcome was subjected to GRADE methods. These methods rate the level of certainty of the evidence for each outcome, allowing the team to move from evidence to dietary recommendations in order to develop their guidelines.
“There is a worldwide interest in nutrition and the issue of red meat in particular. People need to be able to make decisions about their own diet based on the best information available,” he said.
Bradley Johnston, corresponding author on the reviews and guideline, said the research team recognizes that its work is contrary to many currently accepted or promoted nutritional guidelines.
“This is not just another study on red and processed meat, but a series of high quality systematic reviews resulting in recommendations we think are far more transparent, robust and reliable,” said Johnston, who is a part-time associate professor at McMaster and an associate professor of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie.
He added: “We focused exclusively on health outcomes, and did not consider animal welfare or environmental concerns when making our recommendations.
“We are however sympathetic to animal welfare and environmental concerns with a number of the guideline panel members having eliminated or reduced their personal red and processed meat intake for these reasons.”
The accompanying editorial by authors at the Indiana University School of Medicine said: “This is sure to be controversial, but is based on the most comprehensive review of the evidence to date. Because that review is inclusive, those who seek to dispute it will be hard pressed to find appropriate evidence with which to build an argument.”
Meat is not evil. Meat won’t destroy the world. While this certainly isn’t the end of the research line for meat, it’s a big rebuke to the generally-accepted dogma about plant-based vs. meat-inclusive diets.
Here’s an idea. Maybe have a nice steak or chop, some salad and a nice side of vegetables. You know, a balanced meal, just like your mom used to tell you to eat.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
- Bradley C. Johnston et al. Clinical Guidelines |1 October 2019 Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium. Annals of Intenal Medicine, 2019
- Dena Zeraatkar, Bradley C. Johnston, Jessica Bartoszko, Kevin Cheung, Malgorzata M. Bala, Claudia Valli, Montserrat Rabassa, Deagan Sit, Kirolos Milio, Behnam Sadeghirad, Arnav Agarwal, Adriana M. Zea, Yung Lee, Mi Ah Han, Robin W.M. Vernooij, Pablo Alonso-Coello, Gordon H. Guyatt, Regina El Dib. Effect of Lower Versus Higher Red Meat Intake on Cardiometabolic and Cancer Outcomes. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2019
- Claudia Valli, Montserrat Rabassa, Bradley C. Johnston, Ruben Kuijpers, Anna Prokop-Dorner, Joanna Zajac, Dawid Storman, Monika Storman, Malgorzata M. Bala, Ivan Solà, Dena Zeraatkar, Mi Ah Han, Robin W.M. Vernooij, Gordon H. Guyatt, Pablo Alonso-Coello. Health-Related Values and Preferences Regarding Meat Consumption. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2019
- Robin W.M. Vernooij, Dena Zeraatkar, Mi Ah Han, Regina El Dib, Max Zworth, Kirolos Milio, Daegan Sit, Yung Lee, Huda Gomaa, Claudia Valli, Mateusz J. Swierz, Yaping Chang, Steven E. Hanna, Paula M. Brauer, John Sievenpiper, Russell de Souza, Pablo Alonso-Coello, Malgorzata M. Bala, Gordon H. Guyatt, Bradley C. Johnston. Patterns of Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for Cardiometabolic and Cancer Outcomes. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2019
- Mi Ah Han, Dena Zeraatkar, Gordon H. Guyatt, Robin W.M. Vernooij, Regina El Dib, Ying Zhang, Abdullah Algarni, Gareth Leung, Dawid Storman, Claudia Valli, Montserrat Rabassa, Nadia Rehman, Michael K. Parvizian, Max Zworth, Jessica J. Bartoszko, Luciane Cruz Lopes, Daegan Sit, Malgorzata M. Bala, Pablo Alonso-Coello, Bradley C. Johnston. Reduction of Red and Processed Meat Intake and Cancer Mortality and Incidence. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2019
- Dena Zeraatkar, Mi Ah Han, Gordon H. Guyatt, Robin W.M. Vernooij, Regina El Dib, Kevin Cheung, Kirolos Milio, Max Zworth, Jessica J. Bartoszko, Claudia Valli, Montserrat Rabassa, Yung Lee, Joanna Zajac, Anna Prokop-Dorner, Calvin Lo, Malgorzata M. Bala, Pablo Alonso-Coello, Steven E. Hanna, Bradley C. Johnston. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for All-Cause Mortality and Cardiometabolic Outcomes. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2019
- Aaron E. Carroll, Tiffany S. Doherty. Meat Consumption and Health: Food for Thought. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2019