A recent American study of 121,432 US health professionals has come to the conclusion that consumption of red and processed meats is associated with an increased risk of early deaths from cancer and heart-disease. However, nothing could be further from the truth say nutritional experts.
The Harvard University paper ‘Red Meat Consumption and Mortality’ authored by An Pan and Qi Sun, plus associates, appeared in Archives of Internal Medicine. It dealt with two long-term studies that ran between 1980 and 2008 of two cohorts of professionals and documented 23,926 deaths. The researchers quizzed participants on their eating and lifestyle factors.
The boldly-stated conclusion of the authors was that: “Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardio-vascular disease and cancer mortality. Substitution of other healthy protein sources for red meat is associated with a lower mortality risk.”
British qualified nutritionist and obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe, who has analysed the data, suggests there are numerous key problems with the study and says that “the study can at best suggest an observed relationship, or association. To make accusations about causation and risk is ignorant and erroneous.”
She also notes that the numbers are very small. “The overall risk of dying was not even one person in a hundred over a 28 year study. “If the death-rate is very small, a possible slightly higher death rate in certain circumstances is still very small. It does not warrant a scare-tactic ’13 percent greater risk of dying [from unprocessed red meat]’ headline – this is science at it’s worst,” she asserts.
Fiona Carruthers, nutrition manager for Beef + Lamb NZ agrees, pointing out that the methods used to try and predict risk of death from cancer and heart disease in this study are known to be inaccurate and unreliable. “The researchers themselves acknowledge the limitations of how they measured the amount of specific foods eaten, including red meat.”
Other similar studies have shown no risk at all, she says. “There are a number of risk factors for cancer and heart disease; obesity remains the most prevalent. Singling out one food in a condition influenced by such a wide range of factors is misleading.”
The scientific and medical communities agree eating lean red meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet is beneficial to health. It is an excellent source of protein, readily available iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin D and a range of B vitamins, as well as being a low-fat food.
“The results of a single study never change dietary advice or recommendations and this is no exception,” Carruthers says. “New Zealand beef and lamb contribute significant amounts of several nutrients to the diets of New Zealanders. Consumers should therefore be advised to continue to enjoy red meat three to four times a week as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.”
Published in from Food NZ magazine (April/May 2012).