Top News

EDITORIAL: Go ahead, eat that burger

- 123RF Stock Photo
- 123RF Stock Photo

Listen to the experts, we’re told. The science will determine the best thing to do. 

But what about when the experts disagree? 

What do you do when, for years, you’ve tried to avoid red meat, taking a pass on that delicious hamburger or that juicy sirloin, because experts who have done studies say red meat is bad for you? 

The World Health Organization, for instance, rates processed red meat (hot dogs or salami) as carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, while eating red meat (steaks and hamburger) is “probably” carcinogenic.

Dietary guidelines in the U.S. recommend cutting red meat consumption to as little as one serving per week. 

There have been health warnings for decades about how saturated fats present in red meat could increase your levels of bad forms of cholesterol, leading to increased risk of heart disease. 

But now we hear, courtesy of a study led by Dalhousie University epidemiologist Bradley Johnston, co-written with a panel of 13 other experts, that red meat isn’t so bad after all. 

Their review surveyed dozens of studies with millions of participants in North America, Europe and Australia. They analyzed the methods, data and findings, and concluded that the “certainty of evidence for the potential adverse health outcomes associated with meat consumption was low to very low.”  

They did not consider environmental or animal welfare issues.  

The study was immediately met by a furious backlash, harshly criticizing its methods and conclusions and in one case, presenting a petition to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission demanding that the journal that published it, Annals of Internal Medicine, correct “false statements regarding consumption of red and processed meat.”  

While it’s always entertaining to watch professors yell at each other in print, this particular issue is too important to dismiss as just another exercise in academic mudslinging. 

A group of scientists at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health called the study “unfortunate” and said “it may also harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research.”  

But Johnston told the Chronicle Herald that the reaction to the study was “hysterical and not always evidence-based.” 

“Our detractors seem to want to make up their own methods as they go along,” he said. 

While it’s always entertaining to watch professors yell at each other in print, this particular issue is too important to dismiss as just another exercise in academic mudslinging. 

Johnston’s review took great pains to avoid conflicts of interest. If scientists appeared to have a financial or intellectual conflict, they weren’t invited to participate. It was a very broad survey of several different classes of studies. In the end, three members of the panel disagreed with its findings. 

But it does call into question years of research, pointing out that many studies on the topic overreached their conclusions, based on evidence that wasn’t strong enough. If that harms the credibility of nutrition science, then so be it.  

You may feel there are other reasons not to eat red meat, or not to eat meat at all. But Johnston and his colleagues are right to point out that you needn’t fear an imminent heart attack just because you enjoy an occasional hamburger on the barbecue. 

SaltWire Network


RELATED:

Recent Stories