Well done meat is safer to eat

How unhealthy is meat?

Status: October 18, 2019 1:48 p.m. | archive
According to experts, permanently increased meat consumption can increase the risk of diseases such as colon cancer.

A healthy diet includes extremely cautious consumption of meat. So far, this has been the consensus in nutritional medicine. But then all of a sudden many of the major newspapers and online portals were headlines: It was safe to say that more meat could be eaten again. Because according to a US meta-study that summarizes numerous other studies, there is no evidence that meat is unhealthy.

The publication caused a stir at the beginning of October 2019 because it questions the knowledge of nutritional science. But experts criticize the alleged turning point in nutritional medicine as irresponsible: Immediately after its publication, numerous counter-statements from well-known scientists and institutions, including those from the World Cancer Research Fund and the Max Rubner Institute, appeared.

Why the Fleisch study is misleading

In their meta-study, the authors summarized large amounts of data from various studies:

  • In the first three analyzes they evaluated more than 100 observational studies with a total of six million participants. These consistently show a positive effect on the risk of death from cancer if people only reduced their meat consumption a little.
  • The fourth analysis showed little or no effect on cardiovascular disease and cancer. But the study was dominated by a study with a large number of participants (Women's Health Initiative, WHI), which did not examine meat reduction, but the importance of a low-fat diet.
  • The fifth analysis only examines whether people like to eat meat - regardless of health effects.

So three studies confirm that reduced meat consumption is healthier. The fourth showed little effect and the fifth did not provide any useful data on the question. Thus, the authors should actually have advised a reduction in meat consumption. Instead, they criticized the fact that the observational studies available were not as meaningful as studies on the approval of new drugs.

Why nutrition studies are often problematic

The best standard for obtaining certainty in medicine are so-called randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Whether a therapy is effective is determined by comparing a test group, which is given a new drug, for example, with a control group.

Since it is not possible to examine people for decades in a laboratory for nutritional studies and to feed them randomly with sausage or a placebo sausage, while the rest of the diet of the two groups does not differ, only observational studies can be carried out. Although these are methodologically weaker than randomized controlled studies, they are the best studies currently available.

Meta-study on behalf of the agricultural lobby?

Experts also distrust the controversial meta-study for another reason. Because their authors are obviously not as independent as they claim. Some were funded by the US agricultural lobby, which among other things advocates more cattle breeding in Texas.

The lead author Bradley C. Johnston had already attracted attention in 2016 with a study that downplayed the health effects of sugar and was funded, among other things, by the soft drink and fast food industry.

In addition, the authors justify their surprising recommendations in part with studies that were not about health. The health consequences of a vegetarian or vegan diet were not examined.

Recommendations of nutritional medicine

The US meta-study did not change the recommendations of nutritional medicine in Germany. Accordingly, a healthy diet consists of

  • lots of vegetables
  • good oil
  • adequate fiber
  • as little sugar and meat as possible

Possible consequences of eating meat

Not everyone who eats a lot of meat gets sick. But numerous clinical pictures are caused or aggravated by high meat consumption:

Meat consumption affects the intestinal flora

Millions of bacteria live in the intestine, the so-called microbiome. It is assigned an essential role in the immune defense. A person's microbiome is as individual as their fingerprint - and it develops depending on how we live and what we eat. High meat consumption leads to potentially aggressive bacteria multiplying in the microbiome, which can cause inflammation and, in the long term, colon cancer.

Meat consumption increases the risk of cancer

Because there are people who are harmed by high meat consumption, the World Health Organization (WHO) drew the necessary conclusions in 2015: It classified processed meat as definitely carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic. Processed meat is therefore at a risk level with cigarettes.

Recommendations on meat consumption

Experts consider it irresponsible to play down meat consumption - especially since the average consumption in Germany is relatively high at around 60 kilograms per year. Even the very conservative German Nutrition Society recommends a maximum of 300 grams per week, i.e. 15 kilograms per year.

Other experts advise completely against sausage and ham and recommend at best a small amount of meat once a week. For this, 400 grams of vegetables should be on the menu every day.

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Experts on the subject

Dr. Matthias Riedl
Internist, diabetologist, nutritionist
Diabetes Center Berliner Tor
Medicum Hamburg GbR
At the straw house 2
20097 Hamburg
(040) 807 97 90
www.medicum-hamburg.de

Prof. Dr. Samuel Huber, clinic director
Heisenberg Professorship for Intestinal Immune Regulation, Head of Molecular Gastroenterology and Immunology
I. Medical clinic and polyclinic (gastroenterology with sections infectious and tropical medicine)
Center for Internal Medicine
University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE)
Martinistrasse 52
20246 Hamburg
www.uke.de

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Martin Smollich, head of the pharmaconutrition group
Institute for Nutritional Medicine
University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein - Lübeck Campus
Ratzeburger Allee 160
23538 Lübeck
(0451) 31 01-84 01
www.uksh.de

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