Red meat is OK to eat. There are no links between it and heart disease or cancer—such was the thrust of a report published recently in Annals of Internal Medicine. Don’t believe it—this new report is full of problems that undermine its validity.
The report purports to devalue decades of research linking red-meat consumption with cancer and heart disease because most of that research was “observational”—meaning participants reported their eating habits, and researchers then examined data for evidence of health consequences. It’s true that this is not a perfect system—participants might misreport what they eat—but it is the best tool available for nutritional research, since you can’t lock people in a lab and control everything they eat…or feed them placebos for years and tell them they’re eating steak.
The problem with this latest report, however, is that it examined only studies comparing people who ate lots of red meat with people who ate less. It ignored studies comparing meat eaters with vegetarians, which often produce more dramatic results. So while the study reported only minor health benefits by reducing meat consumption, it ignored the big question of meat versus no meat. One study of more than 70,000 people published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2013 found that vegetarian diets were associated with a 12% lower risk for death from all causes during a roughly six-year period.
What to do: The best evidence strongly suggests that reducing red-meat consumption reduces the risk for cancer and heart disease and even possibly dementia. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 recommends no more than 26 ounces per week of meat, poultry and eggs.