Death by BBQ – is meat really killing us?

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  Last updated November 8, 2019 at 2:04 pm


A series of new reviews reveals that meat might not be all that bad for us, but other experts aren’t completely convinced.

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Why This Matters: Recommendations need to be backed by evidence, but the interpretation of the evidence can cause issues.

Aussies everywhere love a good BBQ, but should we be worried about eating all that meat? Perhaps not, according to a new series of reviews which have found that there are very few health benefits from cutting your meat consumption.

The series of papers published in Annals of Internal Medicine also comes with the controversial recommendation that most adults should continue to eat their current levels of red and processed meat – a finding that is contrary to almost all the other guidelines that exist.

Deeper: Rising global meat consumption could spell trouble

The recommendations are based on the conclusion that the actual reduction in risk was small for people lowering their red or processed meat consumption by three servings per week, and any links between meat consumption and negative health effects were uncertain.

Our current meat consumption is up to interpretation

But experts say the findings of the studies don’t necessarily back up the recommendation to maintain our current level of meat consumption.

“It is mostly the interpretation that differs,” says Lennert Veerman from Griffith University. He says the studies suggest that for every additional three serves of red or processed meat per week, the risk of death is 10 per cent higher, but it could be 15 per cent higher or it could be no higher at all.

But while the authors conclude those risks are ‘very small’ and the evidence is weak, and, Lennert says an alternative conclusion could be that having anything up to 15 per cent lower risk of death is a safe bet with attractive odds.

“Across the average life course in Australia, a 10 per cent lower risk of dying translates to living a year longer,” he says. “That is not a ‘very small’ effect. It is a very large effect.”

What’s important is the overall diet

Clare Collins from the University of Newcastle agrees that the recommendations were questionable given that the data presented in the papers.

“When you look past the headline, all the papers indicate that higher intakes of processed and red meat are associated with a higher risk for all-cause mortality, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.”

So with summer coming up, and countless BBQs on the cards for many of us, what is your average meat-eater to do?

Accredited Practising Dietitian, Joanna McMillan says what’s important is your overall dietary pattern rather than the impact of individual foods.

Also: Food fraud fills stomachs but empties wallets

“Someone who consumes meat along with lots of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits is entirely different from another who consumes lots of bacon, burgers and sausages with few plant foods and a high intake of refined grain foods such as burger buns and fried chips,” she says.

She recommends eating a plant-rich diet and then says you can choose, based on ethical and other beliefs, likes and dislikes, as to whether you also include meat.

You can read the full Expert Reaction here.

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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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