Go ahead and eat red meat: NutriRECS Consortium

After reviewing literature surrounding the potential adverse health outcomes of consuming unprocessed red meat and processed meat, an independent consortium is recommending adults continue with their current consumption patterns.

Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) published their findings this week in Annals of Internal Medicine, citing their reasoning behind the recommendations as follows:

  1. There is low to very low certainty of evidence for potential adverse health outcomes;
  2. There is a “very small and often trivial absolute risk reduction” when diets see a decrease of three servings per week;
  3. The lack of motivation to reduce meat-based diets if there is a very small exposure effect; and
  4. They focused on health outcomes, not animal welfare or environmental concerns.

“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 group says they took the of individual decisions making, rather than a public health perspective. Critics of the work are cynical on a few levels, particularly in relation to the consortium’s methodology, which uses GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation). Additionally, some say, randomized controlled trial studies would be nearly impossible (and these are rated high quality in the GRADE system).

The panel used in the study believes, for the most part, the potential desirable effects of reducing meat consumption probably does not outweigh the undesirable effects.

“The weak recommendation reflects the panel’s awareness that values and preferences differ widely, and that as a result, a minority of fully informed individuals will choose to reduce meat consumption.”

It suggests higher-certainty evidence on the impact of red meat and processed meat consumption is needed, and refers to some evidence on the possible benefits of omnivorous diets (muscle development, anemia), adding the caveat this literature was not systematically reviewed.

“This assessment may be excessively pessimistic; indeed, we hope that is the case. What is certain is that generating higher-quality evidence regarding the magnitude of any causal effect of meat consumption on health outcomes will test the ingenuity and imagination of health science investigators.”

Reactions

The study is proving itself rather controversial, generating a barrage of opinions online, from people applauding the take-down of what they see as less-than-ideal evidence, to others defending studies that link negative health outcomes to red meat and processed meat. For many, this is another confusing turn in nutritional recommendations.

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