Spoiler alert – no it isn’t!
New guidelines around red and processed meat consumption were released today from an international panel of experts. After consideration of the research they reviewed, they concluded that people can continue to consume red and processed meats at the levels they’re used to because the data is weak in linking these foods to the development of cancer and/or heart disease. Plus, people like meat and it’s hard to change diet.
No wonder we’re all so confused!
Here’s what you need to know: These recommendations were based on review of a limited number of studies and many were of short duration (several years). But heart disease develops over decades – so it’s almost expected that a sizable association would be missed. And some of these studies were based on food frequency and recollection surveys – which are notoriously unreliable. After all, remembering what you ate and how much you ate is very different than actually measuring every morsel of food that went into your mouth. No wonder the scientists stated that their conclusions were based on weak data. Finally, the differences in meat consumption between groups evaluated were small. As an analogy it's like the scientists compared heavy smoking to moderate smoking and found that there was little difference in outcomes over the course of a few years. The conclusion? We all might as well smoke a lot...for ever. Especially since it's hard to quit using tobacco.
All this does is insert uncertainty where none exists. We already have excellent data about what to eat that comes from observing what people who live long well do! And although they’re not all vegan, they are way over on the spectrum towards the vegetarian/vegan end. Meat is celebratory. And processed meats are rare.
And what about their health? They experience 80% less heart disease, 75% less cancer and 2/3rds less dementia than average Americans. There’s more to it than whether or not they eat red meat – but it makes sense that low red and processed meat consumption has a role to play.
Science is good and it makes sense to pay attention to new data, but we always have to be aware of the limitations behind the studies. In the end, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And ignore all the other noise.