How risky is eating red meat? New papers provoke controversy

FILE - In this June 5, 2014, file photo, a man makes a submarine sandwich with mortadella, cooked salami, ham, Genoa salami and sweet capicola at a delicatessen in Massachusetts. An international team of researchers is questioning the advice to limit red and processed meats, saying the link to cancer and heart disease is weak. Their conclusions were swiftly attacked by a group of prominent U.S. scientists who tried to stop publication of the research, arguing it sends the wrong message.

Oh, the controversy! Is bacon okay again? Should shoppers heed the siren call of a steak’s sizzle? A study unveiled last week refuted earlier conclusions that red and processed meat were bad for health because of heart and cancer concerns.

The latest word also somewhat contradicted the federal government’s own nutritional advice calling for limited intake of red meat and avoiding processed meat if possible.

The new study seemed to offer a green light to those with a pent up desire for bacon or a juicy steak.

And yet….it’s hardly the first time conflicting nutritional advice left ordinary people skeptical of all the studies.

All the conflicting and flip-flopping study results are not so surprising. Nutritional science can be very precise, except for applying specific results to broad populations due to individual differences in health and metabolism and lifestyles.

It’s real science that has many, many variables that force wide margins of error.

Conclusions reached in one study may or may not be borne out by others, and that’s where the new red meat study comes in. It was the result of review of several previous studies and concluded those studies didn’t support high concerns about heart disease and cancer from red and processed meat.

That was about it. Of course, by the time 100 news outlets spread the news, it sounded like the latest study urged people to eat a pound of bacon per day, maybe with a side of pepperoni and sausage.

Some people, of course, heard what they wanted — bacon — and didn’t wait for the details.

We can’t urge people to take all nutritional advice with a grain of salt – is that healthy or not? – but we urge reading beyond the headlines and listening beyond the broadcast news tease.

One might find the seemingly wild conflicts in nutritional advice are perhaps not so crazily askew, once the layers of studies are peeled back.

The fact that there is so much seeming contradiction in something as basic as what to eat, consumers really need to look deeper, to review the studies and the data and become informed on their own.

It’s probably a better way than just grabbing a Slim Jim and hoping for the best.

— Today’s News-Herald

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