The North American Meat Institute raised questions about a study claiming to find an association between red meat and processed meat consumption and deaths from heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reported that dietary factors were associated with an estimated 318,656 deaths from diabetes, stroke or heart disease representing 45.4 percent of all such deaths; and the highest proportion of those deaths were “estimated” to be related to excess sodium intake, insufficient consumption of nuts and seeds; high intake of processed meats and low intake of seafood omega-3 fats.
But the JAMA Dietary Factors and Mortality Study is flawed because it is based on the authors’ assumptions about which foods are good and which are bad, KatieRose McCullough, Ph.D., director of regulatory and scientific affairs for NAMI said in a statement.
“For instance, the researchers begin by saying ANY intake of processed meat is “suboptimal,” she explained. “Based on that logic, if someone indicates they consume any processed meats and then later dies of a heart attack, the authors’ analysis will automatically say that processed meat was a contributor. It is a study designed to reach a particular conclusion.”
According to the article, researchers used “comparative risk assessment models, leveraging multiple data sources including nationally representative data on population demographics, dietary habits and mortality, to approximate the number and fraction of [cardiometabolic] deaths in the United States related to suboptimal diet.” Researchers also focused on only 10 foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, whole grains, unprocessed red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), polyunsaturated fats, seafood omega-3 fats, and sodium.
“The narrow focus of the research also raises red flags,” McCullough said. “The authors chose to evaluate only 10 foods and nutrients, which is a small sliver of the American diet. We eat foods in combination with each other — not in isolation — and lifestyle factors such as exercise, smoking, body weight, among others, all contribute to health outcomes. Zeroing in on the “suspect” without looking at the complete picture is not credible science.”
McCullough noted that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that red and processed meat can be part of a healthy diet, and most Americans already consume meat at recommended levels. She added that the Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that people who follow the Mediterranean Diet eat twice as many processed meats as those who follow the dietary guidelines — something the authors overlooked, she said.
“Both fresh red meat and products such as ham, bacon, salami and other favorites are nutrient dense foods that offer substantial nutritional benefits,” McCullough said. “Encouraging reduced consumption below the very appropriate levels consumed today stands to harm the public health and place Americans at risk of nutrition deficiencies.”