GRADE: excluding red meat is useless and harmful

Over the past decade, several authoritative nutrition organizations have recommended limiting the consumption of red and processed meats. More recent studies of high scientific rigour have called into question the previous recommendations.

The benefits of excluding red meat from the diet are not sufficiently significant to recommend safely reducing meat consumption to the entire population. Indeed, new studies reveal that limiting red meat consumption too much is counterproductive for health. According to the opinion paper on the new NutriRECS guidelines, reducing or eliminating red meat from the diet is not linked to significant health improvements. On the contrary, depriving oneself of food of such high nutritional value can be harmful, with risks that far outweigh the benefits.

The new NutriRECS recommendations claim that there is no reliable and credible evidence reducing the consumption of red and processed meat leads to a lower risk of cancer, heart disease or diabetes. On the contrary, moderate meat consumption is linked to a reduced risk for these pathologies and some types of cancer.

These claims are based on a rigorous method, the GRADE, which provides reliable and robust answers. The fact that the complex case of red meat has been dealt with in depth finally sheds light and clarity on a hitherto unresolved issue. Because of the mistakes made in the past and to ensure that they no longer happen, experts in the development of nutritional guidelines have settled on a solid and transparent study methodology called the “GRADE” system (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations). This method is now used by more than 120 healthcare organizations, including some of the most prestigious in the world, such as the World Health Organization, the Cochrane Collaboration and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Applying the #GRADE system in evaluating the negative health effects of red #meat consumption versus a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, it appears that the surplus has very limited reliability. Click To Tweet

With the GRADE method, randomized trials begin with a high level of certainty and scientific quality, excluding limitations from previous studies, such as inaccuracies, biases, confounding factors and inconsistencies. With over 30 scientific papers published using the GRADE approach, it has been possible to prove that this system provides a well-proven and highly credible method for assessing the certainty of evidence.

By applying the GRADE system in assessing the negative effects on the health of red meat consumption compared to a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, it emerges that the previously highlighted evidence has a very low certainty and, therefore, very limited reliability. For this reason, reducing red meat from the diet for health reasons is questionable today due to the lack of data on the real benefits, so much so that the current recommendations to limit red and processed meat to the entire population are inappropriate.

The authors of the study claim that when only low-certainty evidence is available, panels dealing with the drafting of nutritional guidelines should refrain from making strong recommendations to the public because they risk causing more damage than benefits. The case of red meat is exemplary because, thanks to GRADE, the advice to reduce such a nutritious food only based on limited evidence has proved useless and dangerous, risking causing harmful nutritional deficiencies to the entire population.

Finally, with the GRADE system, it will be possible to improve the study methodology and have solid foundations for composing the diet for good health. Clear and transparent communication by health, medical and political organizations will also be needed to inform consumers about these new aspects so we can finally re-evaluate red meat from the right perspective it deserves.

The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.