A new paper has found that “While some researchers claim that red meat consumption is intrinsically harmful, the evidence does not support this being the case where intakes are below 75 g/d (red meat) and 20 g/d (processed meats) respectively.
“Even beyond these intake levels, only small increases in relative risks are reported (<25%), there is little to no effect on absolute risk, and the certainty of evidence remains low to very low based on the best available summary evidence.”
The use of relative risk estimates can be highly misleading, since the relative risk typically yields larger, often much larger, treatment/exposure effects than if absolute risk is used. For example, a relative risk of 0.50 equivalent to 50% relative risk reduction can, when based on a low baseline risk, mean an absolute risk reduction of a mere 1%; i.e., from 2% to 1%.
The paper says that “Despite being a foundational part of human evolutionary diets and a source of high-quality protein and bioavailable micronutrients in a global context of nutrient insecurity, the consumption of red and processed meats is nowadays increasingly discouraged by a vocal group of scientists and organizations.
“The rationale for this,” they say, “is based on a purported association of their intake with an increased risk of obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as myocardial infarction, stroke, diabetes, and particular cancers.
“As for most foods, one could assume that there may be compelling evidence for optimal intake levels, balancing the potential benefits and harms of meat as a human food. Such an optimum, however, is difficult to estimate, as the evidence is highly contextual and complex, or even conceptually incorrect to begin with.”
Importantly, the scientists say that “The relationship is not necessarily causal – when meat consumption is part of healthy dietary patterns, harmful associations tend to disappear, suggesting that risk is more likely to be contingent on the dietary context rather than meat itself.”