The new popular issue plastered all over the news...and health sources alike, is the controversial new study on red meat consumption, and if it's really warranted to limit your intake, as it has been advised for years. What's the deal with this new info and what should you make of the ridiculous arguments arising from both parties?
For YEARS, the CDC, American Heart Association, WHO and every other health related acronym you can think of warned Americans about the dangers of red meat, processed meat, and overconsumption. Advised to limit our intake to around 1-2 times per week at most, potential adverse health conditions such as heart disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer were certain to arise if we failed to adhere.
Well, apparently not anymore.
A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine now concludes that this previous recommendation is not warranted, and is at best, just not true. These new findings are causing backlash and uproar from physicians, previous publication authors, associations, and health nuts alike.
(Side note - If you aren't careful, most of the health and general wellness issues in our country and give you whiplash over the years with the differing of opinions anyway, so proceed with caution.)
Anywhooo...What I want to get out of this publication is a) to urge you to stop jumping to conclusions and ridiculing this new study without knowing the basis behind it and why it's actually partially true, and b) to break down the facts so you can form an EDUCATED opinion (which is what we all strive for right :) )
How It Was Done and What the Study Actually Concluded
To reiterate, an international group of researchers came together in a systematic study that resulted in the conclusion that prior guidelines may not be backed by good evidence. It was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Now, the Annals isn't your everyday coffeeshop, 'anyone can write in' Wikipedia resource. It's one of the most respected publications in Medicine.
So first of all, the study was a systematic study , which means essentially it just reviewed a slew of previous studies and the conclusions and made the own inferences. What they found is there's a lot of conflicting data. Some show know sign of adverse affects on health, some show a few adverse affects on health, but those that do are only slight affects, and only visible in extremely large populations.
Some reviewers of this new study are criticizing it saying the authors are both dismissing previous warnings to limit your consumption, as well as encouraging endless amounts of consumption without regard. Neither are true. Basically what they're saying is the previous studies are incomplete at best, and that there is a very low correlation to health effects resulting from meat consumption, and the evidence that's backing the previous warnings are just simply not robust enough and are not justifiable by available data. That's it.
Essentially they're just saying you can continue as you normally do, not encouraging you to gorge yourself freely. I can copy and paste the conclusion for you right here... the new study says:
"The panel suggests that adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence). Similarly, the panel suggests adults continue current processed meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence).
Okay, SO...at any point did they advocate for the gorging limitlessly on the food? No. Furthermore, the link with disease was stated as:
“Based on the research, we cannot say with any certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease."
What It Means About Current and Future Nutritional Advice
The biggest issue I see arising is already a case for chat in the nutritional world...the validity of wildly adopted recommendations. Essentially, what should we believe? What's true and what's not? If the 'limit meat' advise has been around for years and now there's case against the evidence, what else if not validated out there?
We already see this with other topics such as limiting fat versus fat is essential, and the ever popular carbs and keto debate. Such a study a this brings about even more confusion about what's 'acceptable'.
What we know, and what scientists from Harvard say, is this study, "may influence future dietary recommendations. In many ways, they raise uncomfortable questions about dietary advice and nutritional research, and what sort of standards these studies should be held to."
And as others ravage the findings, saying: “it will harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research", all we can really say...is nutrition science is difficult and inherently extremely complex.
Like most other recommendations, this is to be taken as suggestions, not factual demands. It should be open to personal interpretations, If you feel better by cutting back on red meat, do so, if your body feels better more plant based, that's your individual choice too. If you translate the findings as recommending you eat as much red and processed meat as you want, there probably will be troubles, much like overconsumption of everything else. Moderation is key to most nutritional components.
But again, like many others studies, it's omitting a LOT of components that would actually skew the findings one way of the other, which I talk about in the next section. The premise here, is that to really determine if there are disease and red meat correlations, you'd have to follow a LARGE group of individuals around for MANY years, analyzing what they eat, all of their lifestyle activities, and have them eat mostly red meat in their diet, and a population study of this magnitude would be essentially, inhumane and practically impossible.
Which brings me to...
What EVERY ONE of These Claims Are Overlooking - (here is where you decide)
Now, to my WILD surprise, all of the studies (including the one in question) that I looked at, didn't take into account a series of very important lifestyle behaviors that would skew the results in any one direction, and give you a better view of the truth.
And to my previous comment that nutrition science is complicated, all of these issues would be tough to examine all at once.
**Note, for the purposes of this article, I am NOT examining or taking into account environmental and carbon footprint effects of red meat processing**
Genetics and hereditary predispositions - as most of you know, genetics plays a huge role in anything health related. If you're inherently predisposed to disease factors like high cholesterol and heart disease, endless red and processed meat consumption might not be for you. Plus, the people in the study who ended up with those diseases could have fallen subject to the genes and it not be related to consumption at all, and skewed the findings.
Other lifestyle factors like degree of activity - at not one point did I read anything about the sedentary or otherwise, habits of the subjects in question. Like most other health studies, generous daily activity is recommended to avoid such diseases that are in question. If you eat a large amount of red and processed meat matched with a generous helping of daily activity, rigorous exercise and all around lack of a sedentary lifestyle, you're going to be better off than if you eat the red meat and remain a couch potato, which then may lead you to contract these diseases without regards to the amount of meat you are consuming.
General dietary habits - a BIG question here, is what were the other dietary habits of the participants like? Was their red meat consumption partnered with a diet high in healthy carbs, essential fatty acids, 10+ servings of vegetables per day and overall moderately restricted energy intake? Or were the subjects tested already overweight and have a diet high in processed carbs, creamy cheeses, sugary beverages, cookies, candies, cakes and high helpings of alcohol? Obviously the latter would lean heavily to increased risk of metabolic disease without consideration of the meat in itself.
What you're eating WITH the meat - okay okay, let's admit it, generally speaking, lifestyle habits have show that eating most red and processed meats is done as part of celebratory occasions, like holidays and tailgates. So usually it's couple with fries, chips, cookies, alcohol, etc. The studies omitted what was being eaten WITH the red meat in question, overlooking another dietary habit of the subjects. If you're eating hamburgers, hotdogs, etc with fries and other unhealthy processed foods, you're more likely to be at risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity. Now if you're consuming quality meat with a slew of roasted veggies or a big salad, chance are not that high because you probably make overall healthy decisions in other area of life.
And most importantly, the QUALITY of the meat you're consuming - my BIGGEST
question in this whole thing is...why are you overlooking the QUALITY of the meats?! Yes, back in the day our ancestors ate meat everyday out of necessity, and that we know of, didn't have inclinations to die of these diseases. What's changed over the years? What's IN the meat, and how it's processed. Generally speaking, mass produced red and processed meats are made in factories in large quantities with added chemicals and hormones to extend the and freshness, size, and taste. THESE ingredients are what we should be looking for and avoiding in our foods, just like any other. if you're inhaling processed sausages, hot dogs, and steaks produced on a farm with antibiotics and hormones injected into their every fiber, you probably will have a chance of getting diseases related to foreign chemicals in our bodies. However if you are making it a point to get high quality, pasture raised, grass fed, organic and non processed meats without all the crazy ingredients we can't pronounce in them, you will have a much better chance of avoiding all illnesses in question.
So, My Own Conclusion
With infinite studies having been done in the past, the conflicting recommendations, and the wildly naive omissions in every opinion that would be almost impossible to account for in any future studies...this issue is like most others, complex. To me, our ancestors were eating copious amount of meat daily to survive, and not withstanding the new additives current processing methods include in our meat, so our bodies are build to both consume and utilize this substance with ease. Having said that, I believe it's in your own arena to choose your approach here. If you're a red meat lover, watch the QUALITY of what you're consuming, how you're consuming it, and what you're consuming it with, and continue to enjoy. If you're plant based and against meat for environmental reasons or dietary preferences, keep avoiding it. If you're a physique and weight loss advisor, like myself, perhaps continue to limit if solely for caloric volume purposes.
So stop believing everything you hear and read, calm down, and stop freaking out about this new study encouraging limitless meat eating.
If you're curious my own personal consumption habits include red meat 2-3 times weekly, while choosing the highest quality hormone free, organic, and humanely raised meat, cooking it low and slow in EV olive oil (not over an open flame), and eating it with copious amounts of veggies. If you disagree, fine. if you're vegan, fine. For now, I'm going to go finish eating this juicy grass-fed burger on a lettuce bun.
For your FREE copy of my #healthyswaps guide, click HERE! As a frequent health trend writer and clarifier of all things 'wellness', follow me on social anywhere 'social' is present :) Instagram.com/nikkicohnbyrdhealth.