‘Flawed’ study links red meat to ill health

People are putting their health at risk by following a "Western-style" diet containing red meat, a new study has claimed.

According to the study, published in the American Journal of Medicine earlier this week, eating red and processed meat, as well as fried and sweet foods, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, "reduces a person’s likelihood of achieving older age in good health".

Researchers followed 3,775 British men and 1,575 British women with a mean age of 51 from the years 1985-2009, in order to gather the information. They used a combination of hospital data, results and screenings, which were documented every five years.

Red meat one culprit

The study showed the main culprits contributing to ill health in later life to be red and processed meats, white bread, butter, cream and sweet foods. The findings also helped researchers to explain why heart disease is still the UK’s biggest killer.

However, the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) has said the study is very much "flawed". Dr Carrie Ruxton from MAP explained that it was an epidemiological study, in which data came from the Whitehall II study. Participants in the study were London-based office staff, aged between 35 and 55 and were aged at least 60 when the study ended, Dr Ruxton said.

Dr Ruxton added that a "Western-type" diet is characterised by high intakes of fried food, pies, sweetened desserts, chocolates, refined grains, high-fat dairy products and condiments. Such foods are associated with less healthy eating.

Red meat not bad for health

"Meat is mentioned as part of the Western dietary pattern, but this study cannot be used to show that red meat is linked with less healthy ageing. A Western-type diet is associated with lower fruit and vegetable consumption for example," she added.

She further added that meat makes an important contribution to intakes of key nutrients, such as zinc, iron, selenium B vitamins and vitamin D. "As a large number of people in the UK have intakes of these nutrients, which fall below recommended intakes, it is valuable to include lean red meat in the diet."