Why the red meat guidelines you've been following could be wrong

Public health officials for years have beseeched Americans to limit their consumption of red meat and processed meats, fearing they may be linked to certain diseases. But a new study challenges that very notion.

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Published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study challenges those widespread recommendations to limit the intake of red and processed meats, saying there is no need to cut back.

“The panel suggests adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption” while also suggesting that adults “continue current processed meat consumption," according to the study's guidelines.

The recommendations were developed using the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) guideline development process. NutriRECS is an independent group with clinical, nutritional and public health content expertise whose mission is to “produce trustworthy nutritional guideline recommendations based on the values, attitudes and preferences of patients and community members.”

Both guidelines were deemed a “weak” recommendation with “low-certainty” evidence. In addition, the newly-published study considered only the impact of red meat on human health, excluding considerations of environmental impact or animal welfare.

“Our weak recommendation that people continue their current meat consumption highlights both the uncertainty associated with possible harmful effects and the very small magnitude of effect, even if the best estimates represent true causation, which we believe to be implausible," the panel of scientists conducting the study wrote.

And though the recommendations are presumably “weak,” they drew sharp attention to previous guidelines set by the American Heart Association regarding red meat and processed meat limitations.

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In 2016, the AHA recommended the average person eat no more than six ounces of cooked lean meat, skinless chicken and seafood per day and only four to five servings per week in an effort to help lower cholesterol, “which may reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases.”

“Most of the cholesterol-raising saturated fat Americans eat comes from meat and full-fat dairy products such as whole milk cheese,” said Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., a professor of nutrition at the USDA Human Nutrition Center at Tufts University in Boston and a member of the American Heart Association’s Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.

“If you decrease your daily intake of animal fat,” Lichtenstein added, ”you’re going to decrease your intake of saturated fat.”