Who says you can’t eat red meat? Food advice questioned anew
PLUS: 7 science-backed reasons beer may be good for you
NEW YORK (AP) — So is red meat good or bad for you? If the answer were only that simple.
A team of international researchers recently rattled the nutrition world by saying there isn’t enough evidence to tell people to cut back on red or processed meat, seemingly contradicting advice from prominent health experts and groups including the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.
But the researchers didn’t say people should eat more meat, or that it’s healthy. No new studies were conducted, and they reported no new understanding of meat’s effects on the body.
Instead, the papers offer a new approach to giving advice about food and health — and a rebuke to how it’s often done.
The dispute lays bare problems with nutrition research long acknowledged in the scientific world: Nutrition studies are almost never conclusive, and whatever supposed risk and benefits there are to any food are often oversimplified.
“People like bumper sticker guidance,” said Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition at Harvard who has led studies tying meat to bad health.
Now health experts are wrestling with how solid scientific findings should be before guidance is issued, how to address biases that might skew conclusions and whether the pleasure we get from eating should be considered.
The scrutiny is likely to spill over to other dietary advice as obesity becomes an ever more critical public health concern, and people become increasingly frustrated with flip-flopping messages.
MEAT TWO WAYS
The papers analyzed past studies on red and processed meat and generally corroborated the links to cancers, heart disease and other bad health outcomes.
But they said the chance of any benefit from eating less of them appeared small or negligible.
For every 1,000 people, for instance, cutting back on red meat by three servings a week was linked to seven fewer deaths from cancer. For some other health measures, like strokes, the difference was smaller or nonexistent.
What’s more, the researchers said there’s little certainty meat was the reason for the differences.
Uncertainty is common in nutrition research. Many studies about food and health are based on links researchers make between people’s health and what they say they eat.
But that doesn’t prove one causes the other. If a thin person loves cereal and eats it nearly every day, for instance, that doesn’t mean cereal is the reason they’re thin.
Health experts who defend advice to cut back meat say the researchers were applying an unreasonable standard — evaluating the strength of the meat studies with a method intended for medical studies, where a specific dose of drug can be tested under controlled conditions.
With nutrition, they say it’s impossible to conduct studies where people’s diets and lifestyles are controlled and monitored over long periods. They say the statistical signals they see in nutrition studies are meaningful, and that people should be given guidance on the best available data.
THE PERSON VS. THE POPULATION
If it’s true that there would be seven fewer cancer deaths for every 1,000 people who cut back on red meat, then it is also true that 993 of those people would not see that benefit even if they ate fewer burgers.
For many public health experts, the potential for those seven fewer deaths is worth making a broad recommendation to limit meat. Across an entire population, the numbers could add up to many lives saved.
But the question is where to draw the line, and at what point the potential benefit is too small and uncertain to ask people to change their behavior.
The authors also argue the individual being asked to change their behavior should be considered. For those who regularly eat and enjoy meat, cutting back on it may seem drastic if all they are getting in return is small reduction in risk, if any at all.
“Recommendations should consider the values and preferences of people who actually bear the consequences,” said Bradley Johnston, lead author of the papers, who specializes in research methodologies.
TILTING THE EVIDENCE
Given the uncertainties of nutrition science, another long-running concern is the potential for findings to be skewed by personal beliefs or financial incentives.
The latest papers were no exception, with critics and supporters each pointing to factors that could have influenced the others’ position.
Critics noted Johnston, the lead author, undermined another dietary recommendation in the past.
He previously led a study funded by the food industry that challenged guidelines to limit added sugars, which serves the interests of many food companies.
That paper initially said the authors independently wrote the plan for the study.
After emails obtained by the Associated Press showed the industry group sent “requested revisions,” the paper was corrected to say the group reviewed and approved the plan.
Johnston and supporters of the papers countered, saying critics have long advised people to limit meat and could feel the need to defend their position.
The back-and-forth underscores the difficulty of ruling out the biases any researcher is likely to have, given the amount of industry money in nutrition research and the strong beliefs people often have about food.
Meat is an especially polarizing topic, given the animal welfare and environmental consequences that come with it.
That could further confuse people about who or what to believe, or they just focus on research that backs up what they want to believe …
SO WHAT SHOULD WE EAT?
Already, the U.S. dietary guidelines have backpedaled on advice to limit total fat, which has been blamed for encouraging people to eat too much pasta and cookies.
In the years since, the guidelines have focused on the saturated fat found in foods like meat, butter and some packaged foods, saying it should be limited to 10% of calories.
As advice around specific foods changes, health experts have increasingly focused on the importance of overall diets.
Some note focusing on single foods, which often have a complex mix of nutrients, can also distract from a simpler message: Don’t eat too much, since eating more calories than you burn makes you gain weight.
“If everyone would just pay attention to that one, we would solve a lot of problems,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food policy at New York University.
This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
7 science-backed reasons beer may be good for you
A pint of beer a day may come with a host of health benefits.
June 2, 2018
NBC News – If you keep a six-pack in the fridge, pop one open and say “cheers” to these potential health benefits.
It contributes to our daily nutrient intake
Many experts agree that beer is more like a food than a beverage — after all, it is referred to as liquid bread. If you’ve ever sipped a pint of Guinness, you know exactly what they mean. While that does mean you need to be mindful of how many calories you’re sipping in each glass, it also means the liquid contains some good-for-you nutrients.
According to one study, “beer contains more protein and B vitamins than wine. The antioxidant content of beer is equivalent to that of wine, but the specific antioxidants are different because the barley and hops used in the production of beer contain flavonoids different from those in the grapes used in the production of wine.”
Charlie Bamforth, a professor of brewing sciences at the University of California, Davis, also claims that beer trumps wine when it comes to B vitamins, phosphorus, folate and niacin.
Beer also has significant protein and some fiber. And it is one of a few significant dietary sources of silicon, which research shows can help prevent osteoporosis. Preliminary research by Bamforth also suggests that beer may contain prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in our gut.
It may lower your risk of diabetes
A study published in the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes found that people who drink 3 to 4 times per week were less likely to develop diabetes than those who never drink.
And when compared to those who didn’t drink beer, men who enjoyed between one and six beers per week had a 21 percent lower risk of diabetes.
It may make your heart healthier
Wine tends to be the choice on the bar menu associated with a healthy heart. But there’s reason to love beer for the same reason … Read more.
Beer is good for your health, with benefits such as lower risk of heart disease and better brain health.
In celebration of Octoberfest, raise a pint to your health as researchers uncover growing evidence supporting the nutritional and health benefits of moderate beer consumption
South China Morning Post – Yes, you read that headline correctly:
Beer, consumed in moderation, can potentially be good for your health. In celebration of Oktoberfest, we look at some recent studies that have found surprising health benefits from partaking of the tasty beverages.
A recent study published in The American Journal of the Medical Sciences concluded that doctors “should be aware of the growing evidence supporting the nutritional and health benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle”.
Moderate drinking can protect health, but how much is too much?
The study found that beer contains more protein and B vitamins than wine, is high in antioxidants, and brings with it a reduced rate of cardiovascular disease.
Of course, there is a serious caveat along with this, as the study notes this only applies to “moderate drinking” – which means one drink per day for women and two maximum for men.
It also only works if the rest of your diet is healthy and balanced and doesn’t entirely consist of pub food bought with your pint.
Hongkonger Sisi Yip, who graduated from the University of Leeds in northern England with a degree in nutrition, works as a nutritionist and personal trainer in Hong Kong. She says the interesting thing about beer is that it is loaded with a variety of healthy compounds:
“Beer contains trace amounts of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium, fluoride, and silicon. Beer also includes a range of polyphenols such as flavonoids and phenolic acids that contribute directly to several beer characteristics such as flavour, haze, body and fullness.” Read more.