Conflicting studies point to meat moderation as healthy diet

London | Reuters — A new study on meat consumption has found that people who eat red and processed meat have higher risks of heart disease and early death — contradicting recent research that suggested cutting out meat has few health benefits.

The multiple findings can make it “difficult for people to make sense of what can seem to be conflicting messages on food”, said Duane Mellor, a dietician at Britain’s Aston University who was not directly involved with either study.

But looking at the research in the round, he and others said, moderation may be the best way forward.

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“In this case eating moderate amounts of meat, including red meat (less than three ounces per day), is likely to be safe,” Mellor said.

“However, in the interest of sustainability as well as health, reducing meat intake… to the recommended less than 70 g per day would be sensible.”

An evidence review published in September 2019 found that cutting back on red and processed meat brings few if any health benefits — but those findings contradicted dietary advice of international agencies and prompted much criticism.

This latest research, conducted by scientists at the United States’ Northwestern and Cornell universities and published on Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found that eating two servings a week of red meat, processed meat or poultry was linked to a three to seven per cent higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

It also found that eating two servings a week of red meat or processed meat — but not poultry or fish — was associated with a three per cent higher risk of all causes of death.

“It’s a small difference, but it’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat,” said Norrina Allen, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern who co-led the study. She added that eating red meat “also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) says red and processed meat may or can cause cancer. It advises eating only moderate amounts of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb — with an upper limit of 500 g cooked weight per week — and “little, if any” processed meat.

A panel of experts writing in The Lancet in January outlined an “ideal diet” for human health and the planet that said global average red meat consumption should be cut by 50 per cent and consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes should double.

— Kate Kelland is a Reuters health and science correspondent in London.

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