An international study grabbed headlines this week when a group of researchers suggested that reducing how much red and processed meat you eat might not have the obvious health benefits that has long been thought.
The researchers reviewed the findings of previous studies and wrote that the link between eating red meat and early death was small, casting doubt on the results of previous findings. But their take was met with tremendous backlash from major health organizations like the American Heart Association, which called their findings “questionable.”
“It is important to recognize that this group reviewed the evidence and found the same risk from red and processed meat as have other experts,” an American Cancer Society scientific director told the New York Times. “So they’re not saying meat is less risky; they’re saying the risk that everyone agrees on is acceptable for individuals.”
So what do you do? It can be frustrating to try to live a healthy lifestyle and be confronted with conflicting scientific findings – especially when it seems to fly in the face of so much advice you’ve already read.
“What I worry about is that people will just read headlines saying it is OK to continue to eat meat when there is so much more science behind the headlines,” says Dr. Desler Javier, an internal medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. He is also a certified diplomate of the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine. “Additionally, these recommendations contradict established standards set by not just one, but multiple organizations including the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and the World Cancer Research Fund.”
Dr. Javier says “these latest studies used analysis methods more appropriate for drug trials where you can give test subjects a placebo pill and compare the effect of an experimental pill forward in time. Nutrition research is more difficult as we obviously don’t eat pills for lunch.”
Everyone is different and has different needs, so if you have questions about what might work best for you, talk to your doctor. Even as the scientific community is at odds over one specific ingredient or another, you can work on keeping your heart healthy by watching your weight and being active. And if you do eat red or processed meat, moderation in such indulgences could be a first step.
“My recommendation for most of my patients is to at least start to incorporate healthy eating patterns that include a diet adequate in fiber,” Dr. Javier says. “Only about 3 percent of people in this country meet their requirement of 25 grams of fiber set by the Food and Drug Administration. Meats including beef and chicken as well as fish have zero fiber. Thus, a diet with at least an emphasis on plant-based nutrition including unrefined whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits can bring numerous health benefits.”
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