For as long as I can remember, scientists have been telling us that red meat — when consumed in large amounts — is bad for us.
We’ve been told that red meat can raise cholesterol, increase the chance of heart disease and even cancer, that it clogs our arteries, can lead to a shorter life … the list of potential ailments goes on.
But this week, red meat lovers were given a shred of hope when four new studies were published in the medicine journal Annals of Internal Medicine. These studies said there’s not enough evidence that reducing our intake of red meat benefits our health. The journal also gave the recommendation that “adults continue current processed meat consumption.”
A news notification popped up on my cellphone about the release of these studies a couple of days ago, right as I was taking a juicy bite out of an angus beef cheeseburger. I was relieved for two reasons — one, because it made me feel a bit better about chomping down heartily on my lunch; and two, because it was nice to finally have a news alert pop up that had nothing to do with our president.
However, when I clicked on the notification to learn more, I found out that this issue (as most of the ones in our country at this moment) is highly divisive. Many public health researchers aren’t happy with these findings and some wanted to delay the publication of them until more research could be conducted, according to an article in the New York Times. Health organizations like the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have come out strongly against these new studies. Scientists at Harvard released a statement stating that the conclusions “harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research.”
So why is there a discrepancy in information when it comes to red meat? Well, that’s where it gets complicated. Part of the reason is the researchers of the latest controversial studies are using a different method to measure evidence from studies. The system to rate the evidence is known as GRADE. This system considers randomized control trials to the most accurate, but most nutritional research is conducted through observational studies, which GRADE considers to be low quality. There’s debate within the scientific community about if GRADE is even appropriate to use for nutritional studies.
Scientific disputes like these are confusing for us — the consumers who are just trying to live our best lives. We rely on scientific data from health organizations to help us make sense of a lot in the world. But discourse about how to measure evidence is also OK. We should be allowed to have all of the information in front of us so we can attempt to make an educated decision for ourselves. But oftentimes, that means we have to read the fine print to understand just what’s going on.
Another point that should be made is that, when it comes to nutrition, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Eating a piece of bread will be fine for some people and could lead others to have an allergic reaction or bad indigestion. We have to listen to our own bodies, seeing how we feel after we eat specific types of food. And, if we can, we should consult our personal health professionals to figure out the best nutritional route to take. Not all routes will or should be the same.
Studies, health organization websites and even health blogs are available to help us with background information, but results from a simple Google search shouldn’t provide all of the rules for us to live by. And, no matter what all of the studies say, practicing moderation when it comes to all types of food seems to be a universally good idea, especially when it comes to an item as controversial — and delicious — as red meat.
Barbara Platts is a red meat lover, but she tries to limit her consumption because it still seems like the right thing to do for her personally. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.