New Guideline Says Red Meat OK to Eat, Despite Previous Cancer Concerns

An updated guideline from the American College of Physicians suggests that most adults can continue current levels of unprocessed red meat and processed meat consumption with little long-term health risks, despite previous warnings that these meats are linked to certain health concerns, such as cancer.

“Based on the research, we cannot say with any certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease,” Bradley Johnston, PhD, an associate professor at Dalhousie University in Canada, who co-led the review, told Reuters.

The NutriRECS guideline is based on four systematic reviews that considered various data sources and health outcomes, including overall mortality, cardiac health, and cancer. A panel of 14 international members, including three community members, from seven countries voted on the final recommendations.

Guideline recommendations stir critics

The guideline recommendation states: “The panel suggests that adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence). Similarly, the panel suggests adults continue current processed meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence).”

Among 12 randomized, controlled trials studied, the panel found no statistically significant or important association between decreasing meat intake by three servings per week and a reduction in cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. A review of approximately 180 cohort studies observed a reduced risk of cancer ranging from 0.1% to 1.3%.

However, some have voiced their concern over the new guideline: “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,” said Marji McCullough, ScD, RD, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, in a statement. “So, they’re not saying meat is less risky; they’re saying the risk that everyone agrees on is acceptable for individuals.”

According to a statement from Harvard School of Public Health to Reuters, “From a public health point of view, it is irresponsible and unethical to issue dietary guidelines that are tantamount to promoting meat consumption, even if there is still some uncertainty about the strength of the evidence.”