What’s the beef with red meat?

A recent study suggested that eating red or processed meats won't necessarily harm your health. What is the truth?


Harvard Health Publishing/Harvard Medical School

Harvard University - February, 2020


The news headlines were everywhere: "It's Okay to Eat Red Meat." The source for this statement was a study published online Oct. 1, 2019, in Annals of Internal Medicine.


An international team of researchers conducted five systematic reviews that looked at the effects of red meat and processed meat on multiple health issues, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death.


The researchers found "low" evidence that either red meat or processed meat is harmful. Their advice: there's no need to reduce your regular red meat and processed meat intake for health reasons.


Unsurprisingly, the backlash from the science community was sharp and swift. For instance, Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health issued a statement that the new advice could potentially harm people's health.


"This new red meat and processed meat recommendation was based on flawed methodology and a misinterpretation of nutritional evidence," says Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition. "The authors used a method often applied to randomized clinical trials for drugs and devices, which is typically not feasible in nutritional studies."


A look at the evidence


The study and its widespread reaction have once again brought up the question of whether red meat and processed meat are bad for your health and if people should cut them out or simply cut back.


So what are the facts? Here's a look at the main issues and questions regarding the role of red and processed meats in your diet.


Red and processed meats do increase health risks ...


You don't need to eat red meat ...


Some kinds of red meat are not necessarily healthier ...