The Times

Fiona MacRae

Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:

“Red meat is back on again, although it’s never been off the menu for me or my family! Yet more contradictory dietary advice from scientists. You pay your money and take your choice.

 There are so many good things about red meat, it’s great source of dietary protein, haem iron, zinc, B vitamins, selenium etc. Yes, too much of anything is a problem, but so is avoiding this important food group. The sensible advice is to minimise processed meats, they do contain chemicals which cause problems and aim to have 3 to 4 portions of red meat per week. It’s also important to eat a wide variety of other dietary proteins, including more plant-based proteins.”

Carnivores rejoice! Most red meat eaters do not need to cut down after all, health experts said last night.

An international panel of researchers have concluded that red and processed meats have little or no effect on the risk of heart disease and cancer.

The Canadian-led group also warned in their report that any benefits to health from cutting back could be outweighed by the damage done to the quality of life from forgoing much-enjoyed foods.

Bradley Johnston, the guidelines’ lead author, said: “For most people who enjoy eating meat, the uncertain benefits are unlikely to be worth it.”

As a result, people who enjoy three to four portions of red or processed meat a week on average should carry on with their diet as it is.

However, the report starkly contradicts recommendations from leading health bodies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO). The saturated fat content of red meat, the high amount of salt in processed varieties, cancer-causing chemicals produced during cooking and the preservatives used in processing are blamed for causing cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

The WHO classifies bacon, sausages, sliced ham and other processed meats alongside cigarettes and asbestos as known causes of cancer, and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) tells people to avoid processed meat altogether or eat very little of it.

Doctors, dieticians and other researchers from seven countries including Britain analysed the results of studies on red meat consumption and health involving millions of people, including some of the studies used to formulate the existing health advice.

Crucially, however, they downgraded the importance of a large number of observational studies in which people were surveyed about their diet and then had their health tracked over time. Problems such as participants finding it hard to remember what they had eaten and meat-eaters potentially also being more likely to smoke or drink made the results unreliable, they said.

Evaluating the evidence in this way led the researchers, who do not have any links to the meat industry, to conclude that there was no real health benefit on cutting down on meat if, like most adults, you ate it three or four times a week.

In his conclusion in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr Johnston, of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said: “This panel suggests that adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption. Similarly, the panel suggests adults continue current processed meat consumption.”

However, Marco Springmann, of the University of Oxford, said: “The recommendation that adults continue current red and processed meat consumption is based on a skewed reading and presentation of the scientific evidence.”

Others emphasised that the research did not give a licence to feast on red meat. Giota Mitrou, of the WCRF, said: “The public could be put at risk if they interpret this new recommendation to mean they can continue eating as much red and processed meat as they like without increasing their risk of cancer. This is not the case.

“The message people need to hear is that we should be eating no more than three portions of red meat a week and eat little, if any, processed meat.”

Tracy Parker, of the British Heart Foundation, said: “How much red and processed meat we should be eating has been up for debate for decades, but our advice hasn’t changed. Most of us could benefit from eating less meat and including more plant-based protein in our diets, such as lentils, nuts and seeds, as well as fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.”

Professor David Spiegelhalter, of the University of Cambridge, described the analysis as “rigorous, even ruthless” but added: “I think we can be confident that the reduction in meat consumption would benefit the planet.”