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Don’t Believe Everything You Read… Even When The Source Seems Trustworthy

Do your own research! In this Information age, it’s become difficult to differentiate between sound medical findings and irresponsible reporting. You should always double check reported medical and nutrition research to confirm its accuracy.

Recently, a very controversial “dietary guidelines recommendation” published in 𝘼𝙣𝙣𝙖𝙡𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙄𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙖𝙡 𝙈𝙚𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙞𝙣𝙚 suggests that adults can continue to consume red meat and processed meat at current levels of intake. While this isn’t “fake news” because it was actually reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, it does constitute what many, me included, believe is irresponsible research based on poor information.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says this recommendation runs contradictory to the large body of evidence indicating higher consumption of red meat—especially processed red meat—is associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, and premature death. However, according to the Annals authors, their guidelines were based on a series of “rigorous” systematic reviews that would presumably account for all this available evidence.

Confused? Harvard’s School of Public Health asked their experts to take a closer look at the research behind these guidelines. Here are their key takeaways:

❗️ 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗻𝗲𝘄 𝗴𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝗷𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗲𝗱 𝗮𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗻𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗱𝗶𝗰𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗲𝘃𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲 𝗴𝗲𝗻𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗳𝗿𝗼𝗺 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗶𝗿 𝗼𝘄𝗻 𝗺𝗲𝘁𝗮-𝗮𝗻𝗮𝗹𝘆𝘀𝗲𝘀. Among the five published systematic reviews, three meta-analyses basically confirmed previous findings on red meat and negative health effects.

❗️ 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝘂𝗯𝗹𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝘁𝘂𝗱𝗶𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗺𝗲𝗮𝘁 𝗴𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀 𝗶𝗻 𝗮 𝗺𝗮𝗷𝗼𝗿 𝗺𝗲𝗱𝗶𝗰𝗮𝗹 𝗷𝗼𝘂𝗿𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗶𝘀 𝘂𝗻𝗳𝗼𝗿𝘁𝘂𝗻𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗯𝗲𝗰𝗮𝘂𝘀𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗼𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗻𝗲𝘄 𝗴𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀 𝗺𝗮𝘆 𝗽𝗼𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘆 𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗺 𝗶𝗻𝗱𝗶𝘃𝗶𝗱𝘂𝗮𝗹𝘀’ 𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗹𝘁𝗵, 𝗽𝘂𝗯𝗹𝗶𝗰 𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗹𝘁𝗵, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗲𝘁𝗮𝗿𝘆 𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗹𝘁𝗵. It may also harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research. In addition, it may lead to further misuse of systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which could ultimately result in further confusion among the general public and health professionals.

❗️ 𝗧𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗶𝘀 𝗮 𝗽𝗿𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝗲𝘅𝗮𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲 𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝗺𝘂𝘀𝘁 𝗹𝗼𝗼𝗸 𝗯𝗲𝘆𝗼𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗱𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗮𝗯𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗰𝘁 𝗰𝗼𝗻𝗰𝗹𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀. It is important for journalists, health professionals, and researchers to look beyond the sensational headlines and even the abstracts of the papers to verify the evidence behind the claims. It’s also crucial to understand that nutrition research is a long and evolving process, and therefore critical to look at the totality of the evidence.

❗️ 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝘁𝘂𝗱𝗶𝗲𝘀 𝘀𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗹𝗱 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲 𝗰𝘂𝗿𝗿𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗺𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗼𝗻 𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗹𝘁𝗵𝘆 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗯𝗮𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗰𝗲𝗱 𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗽𝗮𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗻𝘀 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗼𝗳 𝗰𝗵𝗿𝗼𝗻𝗶𝗰 𝗱𝗶𝘀𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲𝘀. Existing recommendations are based on solid evidence from randomized controlled studies with cardiovascular risk factors as the outcomes, as well as long-term epidemiologic studies with cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and mortality as outcomes. To improve both human health and environmental sustainability, it is important to adopt dietary patterns that are high in healthy plant-based foods and relatively low in red and processed meats.

𝗪𝗵𝘆 𝘄𝗼𝘂𝗹𝗱 𝗮 𝗽𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗴𝗶𝗼𝘂𝘀 𝗺𝗲𝗱𝗶𝗰𝗮𝗹 𝗷𝗼𝘂𝗿𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗽𝘂𝗯𝗹𝗶𝘀𝗵 𝗱𝗶𝗲𝘁𝗮𝗿𝘆 𝗴𝘂𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗺𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗯𝘆 𝗮 𝘀𝗲𝗹𝗳-𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗼𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗽𝗮𝗻𝗲𝗹?

The publication of a cluster of five systematic reviews in the same issue of the journal gives the impression of a major scientific breakthrough, but this is clearly not the case. It is puzzling that the journal would publish dietary guidelines developed by a self-appointed panel that are tantamount to promoting meat consumption, despite their own findings that high consumption is harmful to health. Of note, these recommendations are not based on consensus of the panel because three panel members actually voted against their own recommendations. Furthermore, among the 14 panel members, only two were listed as “nutritional scientists” while most others were listed as “methodologists.”

It should also be noted that the journal may have exacerbated the situation by circulating a press release entitled “New guidelines: No need to reduce red or processed meat consumption for good health.” Such sensational headlines can cause enormous confusion among health professionals, journalists, and the general public.

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