Meat yes or no? The decision is on your plate

Do we have to stop eating red and processed meat to protect our Health? After analyzing five studies carried out previously, a review published last September 30 in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that no, that the evidence against the consumption of this type of foods They are very weak. However, as soon as this conclusion is published, a legion of experts in nutrition from important universities and health centers around the world they put their hands to the head, because what this publication affirms disdains the Nutritional Guides disseminated by the health authorities who advise just the opposite for years.

“I have read in the press that we can eat meat without fear and that we should not take red meat, but what people need is for scientists to agree once and speak clearly. Before they told you that the eggs were very bad and now it turns out that they are good. The same goes for fish, legumes, dairy … Now it's the meat's turn. Please, clarify them at once! ”Says Marisa Gómez, a 51-year-old Valencian administrative officer.

They are related to increased cardiovascular and diabetes risk 2.

Although science is evolution and things are known as more and better research is done, most nutrition experts are very clear about what happens with red meat and continue to reduce their consumption. As Miguel Ángel Martínez-González, a professor at the University of Navarra and a Nutrition researcher at Harvard, explains, “the recommendation to continue with the current consumption of red and processed meat made by the Annals study is based on a biased interpretation of research that They have already been published. Refuting accepted science without demonstrating anything is a threat to health. Hence the response against its conclusion has been so quick and blunt. ”

Co-author and promoter of the prestigious study on nutrition PREDIMED and coordinator of the CIBER Group of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBERobn), Professor Martínez-González is also the author of the bestseller Health for sure (Planet), where he explains that there is a lot biased information that “only benefits the companies that sell insane foods, which end up deteriorating the health of the population and the planet, with dire consequences for present and future humanity. ”

Having said that, it must be recognized that the recently published review has made a press sector happy. "You read lots of scientific studies that show that we have to eat less meat and, suddenly, one states:" Don't worry, you keep eating meat as before, nothing will happen to you. " News like that the media love. Every time an investigation comes out that contradicts previous studies, you know it will be on the safe cover. ” affirms Marta Hermosín, Madrid nutritionist and pharmacist.

Complicated to investigate

  • Nutrition studies are usually done through two types of research:
  • Observational studies: In them many people are followed for decades, their diets and other habits are noted and the consequences on their health are seen. Their problem is to distinguish the specific role of a single food among all those involved.
  • Randomized and controlled studies. In these, the researchers assign different diets to more or less numerous groups of people. The problem is that the volunteers do not usually follow them well or do it all the time and they need to do so for years, in order to see the relationship with the risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity … A practically impossible task .

Clarify the message

Despite the media commotion, what many people still want to know for sure is what red and processed meats really are, what those who say we have to reduce their consumption are based on and what the new work has proven. These are the answers given by the experts consulted:

Red meats include those of bovine (ox, cow and veal), pig, lamb and deer (birds do not count). All the pieces of these animals are included (sirloin, lean fillets, blood sausage, cheeks, liver, kidneys, gizzards, brains …).

Processed meats are those that have been industrially modified to change their flavor, make them more palatable or prolong their life on the shelves. To get it, they season them With salt and spices, they are smoked, cured and / or added with preservatives, dyes and synthetic flavors. Burgers, bacon, sausages, cold cuts, bologna, sausage, sausage, pates or beef jerky They are processed meats.

21% of intestinal cancers are due to excessive consumption.

What the health authorities and the WHO warn is that the consumption of processed meats increases the bowel cancer risk and that red meat is "probably carcinogenic." In fact, it is estimated that 21% of all intestinal cancers occur as a result of the abusive consumption of processed and red meats and that 3% of all cancers are related to such intake. Eating them in excess, in addition, has been linked to a greater cardiovascular risk and to suffer type 2 diabetes. The current scientific consensus is that high consumption of these meats is bad for your health. Other compelling reasons to reduce their consumption are the protection of the environment and the welfare of animals.

The study conducted at the Dalhousie and McMaster Universities in Canada and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that if 1,000 people eliminated three servings of red or processed meat a week for a lifetime, there would only be seven fewer deaths from cancer. And if they did the same for 11 years, there would be four fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease. If every week for 11 years, 1,000 people eliminated three servings of red meat, there would be six fewer cases of type 2 diabetes. And if they eliminated processed meats in the same way there would be 12 fewer cases of this disease. Seen this way, it seems really a small risk.

All against

Given these conclusions, experts say that you have to know how to read the data well. "Although these risk percentages may seem small, when you extrapolate them to the population of an entire country, you have a huge number of affected," says Professor Martínez-González.

“The recently published study does not contribute anything new and only confirms previous studies. It should be explained that the guidelines published by this study are not a formal statement of any health organization and have not changed the existing international guidelines at all. The risks to which the work refers, already suggested by previous studies, have been interpreted in a different and biased way, ”says Professor of Medicine Frank Hu, director of the Department of Nutrition at the TH Chan School of Public Health from Harvard, a member of the US National Academy of Medicine. and one of the world's leading food and nutrition experts.

If taken with bread, potatoes and soda, the consequences are worse.

“Another pernicious effect is that people can misunderstand the messages. If the population ends up thinking that they can eat all the meat they want without having risk to your health, there is a danger, because that is not true, ”says Dr. Giota Mitrou of the World Fund for Cancer Research.

For nutritionist Marta Hermosín, we should also talk about how that meat is consumed: “We know that more and more researchers are studying the effects of how meats are prepared and with what they are accompanied. If you consume them like in the US, almost always between white bread, with fries and sugary sodas, the consequences are much worse, ”says the nutritionist.

What conclusions can we draw?

First, that health authorities (including governments and WHO) and virtually the entire scientific community continue to defend the need to reduce the consumption of red and processed meat.

70 g of red or processed meat a day is the most recommended.

The current recommendation is to consume a maximum of 70 g of red or processed meat a day. That is an equivalent of sausage and a half; a piece of meat the size of a deck of cards; five tablespoons minced meat; two strips of bacon and four or five thin slices of ham.

In the end, the debate can have positive effects, because it encourages discussing the issue with the doctor and asking.

In addition to reducing meat consumption it is beneficial for health include vegetables, fresh fruits and nuts in the daily diet, avoid white flours and trans and saturated fats and cook with extra virgin olive oil, as demonstrated in the PREDIMED study.

Refering to protein, the recommendation is to get it especially from the nuts and the vegetables and, from time to time, from fermented fish, eggs or dairy instead of meat. Finally, it should be remembered that nutrition depends more on consumption patterns and lifestyle than on food.