< Red meat and dairy are vital for human health
Red meat and dairy are vital to human health explained Prof Alice Stanton

Red meat and dairy are vital for human health and more must be done to challenge publications that advocate dramatic reductions or total exclusions of animal-sourced foods from human diets.

This was the message from Professor Alice Stanton, from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, who warned that many publications calling for this are not rigorously peer-reviewed or transparently evidence-based.

Reports from two groups were highlighted by Prof Stanton – these were Lancet-published reports from the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health, and from the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) Risk Factors Collaborators.

The EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet

In contrast with the UK’s Eatwell Guide, the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet recommends halving of animal-sourced foods from 25% to 13% of total calories. Even greater reductions of red meat are recommended – only one 7oz steak per month is allowed.

Prof Stanton said the Lancet Report failed to use the latest evidence on recommended nutrient intake, and, importantly, did not account for the considerably greater bioavailability of micronutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc and calcium, from meat, dairy, fish and eggs.

“It has recently been acknowledged by at least some of the EAT-Lancet Commissioners, that this first version of the planetary health diet would result in significant essential micronutrient shortfalls.”

Prof Stanton said the failings of the EAT-Lancet Report authors mean animal-sourced foods would need to account for at least 27% of calories.

Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) 2019 Risk Factors Study

Meanwhile, the GBD 2019 Risk Factors Study suggests links between red meat intake and colorectal cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart attacks and strokes, even with low and moderate intakes of red meat (20-50g/day).

Prof Stanton said that data used as evidence for the GBD 2019 estimates was unpublished – hence had not been subject to rigorous peer-review.

After questions and challenges from Prof Stanton and many scientific groups (Academy of Nutrition Sciences, World Cancer Research Fund and McMaster University), the GDB collaborators published their systematic review of the impacts of red meat consumption, a Burden of Proof Study, in Nature Medicine in 2022.

This study, which is evidence-based, had very different conclusions – “no or only very weak evidence that consumption of unprocessed read meat is associated with any increased risk.”

Concluding messages from Prof Stanton

It is extremely worrying that despite the errors being publicly acknowledged by the authors, corrections to these very influential reports have not been made and they continue to be widely cited by scientific papers, and by national and international policy documents and guidelines, she added.

She advocated that:

  1. Scientists, policymakers and all involved in the food system should not accept reports, guidelines or global health estimates that:

a) Are not rigorously and transparently evidence-based, and/or

b) Ignore the protections against nutritional deficiencies and chronic diseases afforded by animal-sourced foods.

  1. Consumption of nutrient-rich, sustainably produced, animal-sourced foods, in appropriate evidence-based quantities, should continue to be included in national and international guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet.

Did you know?

Two or more full fat servings of dairy/day is associated with:

  • A 25% reduction in colorectal cancer
  • A 60% reduction in obesity
  • A 25% reduction in mortality
  • And a 32% reduction in heart attacks/strokes.

Furthermore, 18 out of 20 of the top sources of commonly lacking nutrients come from animal-sourced foods.

Red and processed meats are rich in all essential amino acids and in many commonly lacking micronutrients, including iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D3.

Prof Alice Stanton was speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference in January.