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Should you eat red meat? Here's what health experts want you to know

Red meat - to eat or not to eat, that is the question. Recent headlines and a new study seem to suggest that there isn't enough evidence to tell people to cut back on red or processed meat. The controversial study seemingly contradicts advice from prominent health experts and groups including the recent advice from the Heart Foundation.

Why all the headlines?

For years now, public officials have urged us to limit our consumption of red meat and processed meats after having linked it to heart disease, cancer and other illnesses. However, recently we saw a remarkable turnaround after a major series of scientific reviews found this dietary advice might not be justified by the available data.

Any health benefits from eating less red meat, the researchers concluded, were small. In fact, they were so faint that they could only be discerned when looking on a population-scale, and were not enough to justify telling individuals to cut back on their carnivorous habits.

“The certainty of evidence for these risk reductions was low to very low,” said Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University in Canada and leader of the group publishing the new research in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Why are the new findings so controversial?

Public health researchers have criticised the findings, warning the contradictory conclusions could “harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research”.

If anything, the nutritional backflip highlights an uncomfortable truth - which also applies to other dietary advice concerning salt, fats and carbs, to name a few - about the fickleness of dietary advice. In other words, it can feel like what’s ”good” for you one day is “bad” for you another.

The recent claims came on the back of new analyses, which are based on three years of work by 14 researchers in seven countries. Three of these reviews looked at whether eating red meat or processed meats affected the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer. Each concluded that the links between eating red meat and disease and death were small, and the quality of the evidence was low to very low.

So, is red meat bad for me?

Dr Frank Hu, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, says we should not let these studies change current recommendations on health and eating patterns for the prevention of chronic diseases, which are based on solid evidence from randomised controlled studies.

The World Cancer Research Fund advises that you should limit your weekly intake of unprocessed cooked red meat to 350-500g. For processed meat, the advice is to eat little, if any at all. This is also consistent with advice in the Ministry of Health to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

This was originally published on bodyandsoul. To read the full article, click here.