Published: Tue, October 01, 2019
Medical | By Mark Scott

No need to cut down on bacon sandwiches, researchers say

No need to cut down on bacon sandwiches, researchers say

"For most people who enjoy eating meat, the uncertain health benefits of cutting down are unlikely to be worth it", he says.

Most people don't need to reduce their intake of red or processed meat for health benefits, unless they want to, according to a new set of guidelines from a group of global experts.

The authors also did an additional systematic review looking at people's attitudes and health-related values around eating red and processed meats.

"The guidelines are based on papers that presumably say there is evidence for what they say, and there isn't", said Dr Dennis Bier, director of the Children's Nutrition Research Centre at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and past editor of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The new findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, challenge the legitimacy of the current guidelines, claiming they are based on very low-quality evidence.

The new reports are based on three years of work by a group of 14 researchers in seven countries, along with three community representatives, directed by Johnston. Bradley Johnston, associate professor at Dalhousie University, said: "Based on the research, we can not say with any certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease".

The team's conclusion that most adults should continue to eat their current level of red and processed meat, about three to four times a week, is contrary to almost all other guidelines that exist.

But it's also true that both those groups are much less healthy than people who cut meat completely out of their diets, he said. "If [guidelines are] based on observational studies, it's hard to make strong causal inferences on red meat or processed meat, given other possibly confounding factors" such as a person's socioeconomic class, lifestyle and other dietary habits, Johnston says.

In a statement to Global News, the organization cited a May 2019 study that supported their statements, writing, "The study showed that if Canadians reduce our consumption of red or processed meat by half a servicing per week, we could prevent about 8,700 or 16, 600 cancer cases, respectively by 2042". Red and processed meats have tended to be singled out as particularly risky, with experts linking processed meat to bowel cancer and eating lots of red meat to cancer.

Eating more plant-based foods can help to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, scientists say. Defenders counter that nutrition studies can rarely be conclusive, but that they offer important insights.

"It doesn't matter how many meta-analyses of randomised trials and cohort studies are done and how many millions of people are included".

"They're not saying meat is less risky", McCullough said. Because switching diet on a whim can trigger other problems and stresses and who knows, maybe they'll tell us bananas and tomatoes are killing us in a decade or two anyway?

As you can imagine, leading cancer and heart associations didn't warm to the new findings.

Lumping red meat and processed meat together is confusing and incorrect, since processed meats and marbled cuts of red meat are a "health-minus", while lean and extra-lean cuts of red meat can provide iron, vitamin B12 and other health benefits, she added. "This is perplexing, given the ... clear evidence for harm associated with high red meat intake", adds Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition chair Frank Hu. "We focused exclusively on health outcomes, and did not consider animal welfare or environmental concerns when making our recommendations".

"The headlines are going to say 'burger lovers rejoice, you can eat all the meat you want, ' and that's a completely irresponsible message", Barnard said.

The World Most cancers Analysis Fund has warned in opposition to pink and processed meats since 2010.

Evidence of red meat's hazards still persuaded the American Cancer Society, said Marjorie McCullough, a senior scientific director of the group.

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