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A new recommendation on red meat contradicts the advice that Americans have been given for years. Researchers conclude there is no need to cut back on red meat. This advice is published in the Annals Of Internal Medicine, and it has triggered debate. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Leading health groups, including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, have recommended a diet that limits red and processed meats. The consensus that's emerged is that a plant-centered diet is good for the environment and for people's health. That's why nutrition scientist Christopher Gardner of Stanford University says he was completely taken aback to see the new recommendation.
CHRISTOPHER GARDNER: I am outraged and bewildered.
AUBREY: He says there's a body of evidence from long-term studies that point to benefits of limiting red and processed meats.
GARDNER: Consistently, there's a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and even diabetes.
AUBREY: He says that's why, around the globe, there are recommendations to promote this pattern of eating.
GARDNER: So, really, there's a lot more agreement out there than the public thinks.
AUBREY: But not everyone agrees with Gardner. There's a growing movement to challenge the mainstream thinking. The new recommendations come from a group of scientists who are mostly not nutrition experts. They used an alternative model of evaluation that favors randomized controlled trials over the kinds of observational studies typically done in nutrition research. Christine Laine is editor-in-chief of The Annals Of Internal Medicine.
CHRISTINE LAINE: I think the biggest message from this group of work is that we have really lousy data on nutrition.
AUBREY: Laine was asked by a prominent group of nutrition scientists to hold off publishing the recommendation. They take issue with the method that was used, but Laine defends this method as rigorous. Meanwhile, what's really needed to answer the question of how much red and processed meat is OK in our diets is a big randomized controlled trial that critics say would be way too costly and too complicated to ever pull off. And Laine agrees.
LAINE: We're not going to be able to do a randomized controlled trial that is going to definitively answer this question. But I think we should just be transparent that we really don't know.
AUBREY: The disagreement will likely spill over into ongoing debates as the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are set to be updated next year. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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