The Atlantic

The Actual Reason Meat Is Not Healthy

Nutrition studies leave out a crucial factor.
Source: Eraldo Peres / AP

Last week, as Americans grappled with the prospect of presidential impeachment and the national capacity for surprise seemed fatally depleted, news came out that shook people to their core. It was about meat.

Eating red and processed meat, the headlines declared, was no longer unhealthy. It seemed—at a glance—that a bad thing was now a good thing. The stories were based on a recently published analysis of existing evidence in which one group of researchers recommended that “adults continue their current levels of meat consumption.” This conclusion—which the journal that published the research called “guidelines”—was written by a group called NutriRECS. The group was formed recently, and has not previously made recommendations about eating meat. Some of its founders, however, published a similar article in 2016 saying that evidence was too weak to justify advising people to eat less sugar.

Fox News said the new research was “reversing previous data,” and encouraged audiences to “go eat a steak.” PBS declared this another case of “ever-changing nutrition recommendations.” The New York Times called the story “a remarkable turnabout.” But who, exactly, was turning about? The guidelines were not endorsed by any established guideline-issuing medical entities, such as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the World Health Organization, or the World Cancer Research Fund International. These and others have recommend eating meat in “moderation,” based on many studies that have found heavy meat consumption to be associated with premature death, various cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.

Despite this advice, Americans do not eat meat in moderation, and never have. Since the 1960s, the per-capita intake has doubled. The man eats more than his own weight). Americans eat meat in quantities that the global average.

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