Study Finds Cutting Back on Red Meat Has Little Impact on Health

Steak Beef

Major Canadian-led study finds there’s no need to cut down red and processed meat consumption.

Most people can continue to eat red and processed meat as they do now.

A panel of international scientists led by researchers at Dalhousie and McMaster universities systematically reviewed the evidence and have recommended that most adults should continue to eat their current levels of red and processed meat.

The researchers performed four systematic reviews focused on randomized controlled trials and observational studies looking at the impact of red meat and processed meat consumption on cardiometabolic and cancer outcomes.

Bradley Johnston, Dalhousie University

This is Bradley Johnston, PhD, corresponding author on the reviews and guidelines and an associate professor of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University. Credit: Dalhousie University

In one review of 12 trials with 54,000 people, the researchers did not find statistically significant or an important association between meat consumption and the risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

In three systematic reviews of cohort studies following millions of people, a very small reduction in risk among those who had three fewer servings of red or processed meat a week, but the association was uncertain.

The authors also did a fifth systematic review looking at people’s attitudes and health-related values around eating red and processed meats. They found people eat meat because they see it as healthy, they like the taste and they are reluctant to change their diet.

Bradley Johnston, PhD, corresponding author on the reviews and guideline and an associate professor of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University, said the research team realizes its work is contrary to many current 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,” he said.

Johnston added: “We focused exclusively on health outcomes, and did not consider animal welfare or environmental concerns when making our recommendations.

Gordon Guyatt, McMaster University

This is Dr. Gordon Guyatt, chair of the guideline committee and a professor at McMaster University. Credit: McMaster University

“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 five systematic reviews, a recommendation and an editorial on the topic were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine yesterday, October 1, 2019.

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.”

Gordon Guyatt, chair of the guideline committee and a professor at McMaster, said the research group with a panel of 14 members from seven countries used a rigorous systematic review methodology, and GRADE methods which rate the certainty of evidence for each outcome, to move from evidence to dietary recommendations 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.

Other researchers involved in the work included those from the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, and the guideline committee included lay people as well as the scientists. There were no primary external funding sources.

References:

“Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium” by Bradley C. Johnston, PhD; Dena Zeraatkar, MSc; Mi Ah Han, PhD; Robin W.M. Vernooij, PhD; Claudia Valli, MSc; Regina El Dib, PhD; Catherine Marshall; Patrick J. Stover, PhD; Susan Fairweather-Taitt, PhD; Grzegorz Wójcik, PhD; Faiz Bhatia, PEng; Russell de Souza, ScD; Carlos Brotons, MD, PhD; Joerg J. Meerpohl, MD; Chirag J. Patel, PhD; Benjamin Djulbegovic, MD, PhD; Pablo Alonso-Coello, MD, PhD; Malgorzata M. Bala, MD, PhD; Gordon H. Guyatt, MD, October 1, Annals of Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.7326/M19-1621

“Patterns of Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for Cardiometabolic and Cancer Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies” by Robin W.M. Vernooij, PhD; Dena Zeraatkar, MSc; Mi Ah Han, MD, PhD; Regina El Dib, PhD; Max Zworth, BA⪼ Kirolos Milio, BSc; Daegan Sit, MD; Yung Lee, BHSc; Huda Gomaa, MSc; Claudia Valli, MSc; Mateusz J. Swierz, MD; Yaping Chang, PhD; Steven E. Hanna, PhD; Paula M. Brauer, PhD, RD; John Sievenpiper, MD, PhD; Russell de Souza, RD, ScD; Pablo Alonso-Coello, MD, PhD; Malgorzata M. Bala, PhD; Gordon H. Guyatt, MD, MSc; Bradley C. Johnston, PhD, October 1, Annals of Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.7326/M19-1583

“Effect of Lower Versus Higher Red Meat Intake on Cardiometabolic and Cancer Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Randomized Trials” by Dena Zeraatkar, MSc; Bradley C. Johnston, PhD; Jessica Bartoszko, HBSc; Kevin Cheung, MD; Malgorzata M. Bala, MD, PhD; Claudia Valli, MSc; Montserrat Rabassa, PhD; Deagan Sit, MD; Kirolos Milio, BSc; Behnam Sadeghirad, PharmD; Arnav Agarwal, MD; Adriana M. Zea, RD; Yung Lee, BHSc; Mi Ah Han, MD, PhD; Robin W.M. Vernooij, PhD; Pablo Alonso-Coello, MD, PhD; Gordon H. Guyatt, MD; Regina El Dib, PhD, October 1, Annals of Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.7326/M19-0622

“Health-Related Values and Preferences Regarding Meat Consumption: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review” by Claudia Valli, MSc; Montserrat Rabassa, PhD; Bradley C. Johnston, PhD; Ruben Kuijpers, MSc; Anna Prokop-Dorner, PhD; Joanna Zajac, PhD; Dawid Storman, MD; Monika Storman, MD; Malgorzata M. Bala, MD, PhD; Ivan Solà, MSc; Dena Zeraatkar, MSc; Mi Ah Han, MD, PhD; Robin W.M. Vernooij, PhD; Gordon H. Guyatt, MD; Pablo Alonso-Coello, MD, PhD; for the NutriRECS Working Group, October 1, Annals of Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.7326/M19-1326

“Reduction of Red and Processed Meat Intake and Cancer Mortality and Incidence: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies” by Mi Ah Han, MD, PhD; Dena Zeraatkar, MSc; Gordon H. Guyatt, MD; Robin W.M. Vernooij, PhD; Regina El Dib, PhD; Ying Zhang, PhD; Abdullah Algarni, MBBS; Gareth Leung, BHSc; Dawid Storman, MD; Claudia Valli, MSc; Montserrat Rabassa, PhD; Nadia Rehman, BDS; Michael K. Parvizian, BHSc; Max Zworth, BA; Jessica J. Bartoszko, HBSc; Luciane Cruz Lopes, PhD; Daegan Sit, MD; Malgorzata M. Bala, MD, PhD; Pablo Alonso-Coello, MD, PhD; Bradley C. Johnston, PhD, October 1, Annals of Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.7326/M19-0699

“Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for All-Cause Mortality and Cardiometabolic Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies” by Dena Zeraatkar, MSc; Mi Ah Han, MD, PhD; Gordon H. Guyatt, MD, MSc; Robin W.M. Vernooij, PhD; Regina El Dib, PhD; Kevin Cheung, MD, MSc; Kirolos Milio, BSc; Max Zworth, BASc; Jessica J. Bartoszko, HBSc; Claudia Valli, MSc; Montserrat Rabassa, PhD; Yung Lee, BHSc; Joanna Zajac, PhD; Anna Prokop-Dorner, PhD; Calvin Lo, BHSc; Malgorzata M. Bala, PhD; Pablo Alonso-Coello, MD, PhD; Steven E. Hanna, PhD; Bradley C. Johnston, PhD, October 1, Annals of Internal Medicine.
DOI: 10.7326/M19-0655

13 Comments on "Study Finds Cutting Back on Red Meat Has Little Impact on Health"

  1. This issue has more to do with control than it has to do with health. I assure everyone that life without food and water is impossible. Trying to force people eat what you are selling has nothing to do with staying alive or healthy.

  2. “a very small reduction in risk among those who had three fewer servings of red or processed meat a week, but the association was uncertain” – And the conclusion is that red meat has little impact on health? Is this a joke?

    So the participants may have been reducing their meat consumption from 15 to 12 servings per week and then checked for short term health changes? Even though heart disease, cancer, and other major diseases may take years or even decades to take effect after a lifetime of habitual use?

    Terrible science and terrible journalism. Do better.

    • Andrew Goetsch | October 3, 2019 at 12:42 pm | Reply

      The observation, pretend scientist, was that the referred to example was the only time they found even a small, casual, statistically insignificant relationship between red meat reduction and heath. The study covered a lot more than that.

  3. LOL… clearly not everyone agrees with the methods and conclusions reached by this “research”:
    https://www.plantbasednews.org/lifestyle/experts-slam-study-red-meat-healthy

  4. It is so difficult to find a numbers based summation of studies. This one is refreshing for that reason if no other. But there is another. Thank you for not being funding by “The Meat Counsel” or some such. Also thanks for the courage to publish when the politically correct version is 180 degrees the other direction. As always it is just a summation of numbers of a broad population. These averaged results may not apply to the specific situation of any individual. But at least we should take some comfort in establishing a mean (standard) of measurement.

  5. Andrew Goetsch | October 3, 2019 at 12:37 pm | Reply

    It’s a lot worse science for pretenders, like Bill Nye to cherry pick one observation, written by a reporter yet, with no context and declare the entire study meaningless.

  6. So if you eat meat and you reduce your meat intake by 3 per week your health won’t see an impact?

    What a breakthrough.

    Meanwhile every vegan on the planet is tapping their feet.

  7. Heart disease has little to do with consumption of fatty foods. it has more to do with genetics and activity level.
    The real food culprit is refined sugars and excessive carbohydrates.
    Dont cut out the burger cut out the bun and soda pop.

    • you speak the truth; however, I would still reduce the red meat for a number of other reasons. Ohh…and don’t forget that fruit juice has close to the same amount of sugar as a soda pop…sooooo, OJ isn’t so good for you if you are getting sugars from other places as well.

  8. This study is a disgrace to the medical community, and is harmful to the health of the American public. The science is solid and overwhelming pointing to the real dangers of eating meat – not just red meat, but chicken, fish, fowl, and especially processed meats. Studies like this one should be outlawed, because it is misleading and untrue. Read the real medical studies to learn what is true.

    • actually, fish is great for your heart health. Fish oil supplements simply are not the same as the real deal. Stay natural, avoid pills.

  9. The study is not saying that red meat is good for you. It says that the studies that have been done before do not prove that red meat is bad for you. These are two different statements. Now the paper, like all papers, will receive post publication review from other researchers and the validity of their finding will be tested.

    One paper isn’t proof…a body of research only creates a census on a theory. There are very few laws of science.

  10. Elizabeth Halloran | October 6, 2019 at 2:16 pm | Reply

    This guy gets paid to conduct “research” on topics by industry lobbyists. He published this study after concluding a contract working for meat producers. His study before this claimed sugar wasn’t harmful. A year before he published it, he was consulting for several corporations that produce products ladden with white refined sugar. He’s a hired gun.

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