A collection of controversial research reviews on consumption of red meat and processed meat published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine seemingly overturns years of public health guidelines and recommendations from a range of experts and organizations. It was met with resounding criticism from many nutrition experts. A close look at the findings can help you make informed choices for your own health.
The Controversy: The reviews, conducted by an independent group of scientists, concluded that adults should continue unprocessed red meat and processed meat consumption at current levels. The research (composed of three separate meta-analyses and two narrative reviews of existing studies on red meat and processed meat consumption) quickly led to media headlines with statements like, “meat is back!”
This conclusion is highly controversial because prior meta-analyses of long-term observational studies have consistently found that intake of processed meats (like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, ham, jerky, and deli meats) is linked to higher risk of colorectal cancer, stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. In these earlier studies, unprocessed red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) were not linked to any evidence for benefits, but were generally linked to less robust or consistent evidence of harms than processed meats, except for higher risk of type 2 diabetes at higher levels of intake. In 2015 the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans and that consumption of red meat is “probably” carcinogenic to humans. Similarly, the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research systematically reviewed the evidence and recommend limiting red meat consumption to moderate amounts and consuming very little processed meat.