One of the biggest complaints I hear as a dietitian is that nutrition advice “is confusing” because “the experts are always changing their minds.” Honestly, I completely understand why the public feels this way. Stated simply, we exist in a world with endless, readily available information and insufficient responsibility to disclose fact vs. opinion and credibility vs. bias.
Let’s use a New York Times story, published yesterday, as a case in point. It questions long-standing nutrition guidance to decrease intake of red and processed meat, which has been a clear and constant mantra in the health community, particularly as it relates to cancer risk.
The assertion. A group of international scientists, looking at the evidence, have questioned whether 1) the extent to which consumers benefit from not eating red meat is enough to warrant recommending its reduced consumption; 2) the science used in making this recommendation is good enough; and, finally, 3) if the average carnivore does not want to decrease consumption, whether it’s worth recommending less in the first place.
To be clear. The American Cancer Society, American Institute of Cancer Research, World Cancer Research Fund, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Harvard School of Medicine, and others still recommend moderating intake of red meat and eating little to no processed meat. The American Institute of Cancer Research’s most recently released Expert Report says that “The evidence that red meat (beef, pork and lamb) is a cause of colorectal cancer is convincing…we can consume modest amounts without a measurable increase in cancer risk.” Regarding processed meat, they conclude that “…the evidence is just as convincing” and that “cancer risk begins to increase with even very low consumption.”
What moderating red meat looks like in real life. Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb. A moderate amount is 12 to 18 ounces (cooked) per week.
Inaccurate interpretation of the preponderance of scientific evidence is an ongoing issue. Here are some helpful tips on viewing nutrition information through the lens of healthy skepticism: