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Is reducing red meat consumption good for my health?

Many dietitians believe that limiting red meat intake is associated with better health, however, the issue has not yet been completely agreed upon by the scientific community. While observational studies have shown an association between high red meat consumption (mainly processed meat *) with increased risk of developing chronic diseases, many researchers say that observational studies are limited, showing a low standard of evidence. ,

The consumption of red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat and horse) contributes with several important nutrients to human health, such as essential amino acids, vitamins (including B12) and minerals (including iron and zinc). 118 However, it can also cause health problems. Some of the existing hypotheses for the association between the high consumption of red meat and the higher incidence of diseases in the population are the addition of some additives in the diet of animals, the consumption of processed meat, and the practice of cooking meat at high temperatures – even for a short period. But, it has not yet been possible to correlate which meat components could result in an increased risk of disease in humans.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, while eating unprocessed red meat has a probable risk of increasing the incidence of colorectal cancer, consumption of processed meat has a more convincing of increasing that incidence (see picture below). Thus, they recommend limiting the consumption of cooked red meat to 350-500 g/week and avoiding processed meat.

As mentioned earlier, the great criticism of these studies is their experimental design. Researchers against the existence of this correlation argue that there is no causal relationship between meat consumption and the increased risk of developing some diseases in the population. According to them, the observational characteristic of these studies would only allow creating an association between the habit of consuming red meat and the problem, but not proving that meat consumption is the direct cause of the increased risk of these diseases. 

* Processed meats are meats that have been cured, smoked, salted or that have added preservatives and chemical additives to improve flavour or preservation, such as ham, sausage, bacon, and salami.

Additional information

    1. a) See the “Summary of the strong evidence on diet, nutrition and physical activity on the prevention of cancer” from the World Cancer Research Fund International:

    Summary of the strong evidence on diet, nutrition and physical activity on the prevention of cancer

    1. b) To better understand the problems involved in observational studies:

    Should I eat red meat? Confusing studies diminish trust in nutrition science


    Wolk, A. (2017). Potential health hazards of eating red meat. Journal of Internal Medicine. 281, 106–122.

    Jackson. A., Powers, H. et al. (2018). Recommendations and public health and policy implications 2018. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Access: https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/resources-and-toolkit

    Leroy, F., & Cofnas, N. (2020). Should dietary guidelines recommend low red meat intake? Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 60, 2763-2772.

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