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Sugar, red meat controversy rages


*Top journal publishes Coca Cola-funded study claiming sweets are not as bad as claimed
*Insists eating more red meat does not hurt heart, can actually be good for blood pressure

The controversy on whether sugar and red meat causes ill health such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cancer or not has refused to go away.

A study funded by food companies has challenged recommendations by public health officials for people to cut sugar consumption, saying there was no clear link between consumption of added sugar and health effects.

The study is the latest response by food companies including candy and soda makers to a growing consensus among scientists and public health officials that the sweetener is to blame for rises in the incidence of obesity and diabetes. The report comes as a number of local governments in the United States are introducing sugar and soda taxes aimed at reducing consumption.


“Guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence,” said Bradley Johnston of The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute and co-authors in an article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM).

The review of research used as a basis for policymaking was funded by the International Life Sciences Institute, which includes among its members Coca Cola Co, PepsiCo Inc, Mars Inc and Hershey Co.

The report questions the quality of evidence used by organizations including the U.S. government, the World Health Organization (WHO) and others that have advised people to cut down consumption of added sugars to promote health.

Differing recommendations from organizations are confusing to the public, the report said.

Also, red meat has been condemned as a cancer-causing, blood pressure-raising no-no.

Indeed, nutritional guidelines in both the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.) advise eating no more than 70g of beef, pork, or steak per day.

But a new review of clinical trials from Purdue University has found quite the opposite.

According to the study, eating more than the recommended daily amount of red meat does not affect short-term heart disease risk factors, such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

In fact, they found unprocessed red meat to be a good source of nutrients for patients.

“During the last 20 years, there have been recommendations to eat less red meat as part of a healthier diet, but our research supports that red meat can be incorporated into a healthier diet,” said Wayne Campbell, professor of nutrition science. Red meat is a nutrient-rich food, not only as a source for protein but also bio-available iron.”

The recommendations to limit red meat from the diet come mainly from studies that look at the dietary habits of people with cardiovascular disease.

Although these studies showed these people typically ate red meat, they were not designed to show that red meat caused cardiovascular disease.

To investigate the issue further Professor Campbell, worked with doctoral student Lauren O’Connor, and postdoctoral researcher Jung Eun Kim, to conduct a review and analysis of past clinical trials.

Their aim was to detect cause and effect between eating habits and health risks.They screened hundreds of related research articles, focusing on studies that met specific criteria including the amount of red meat consumed, evaluation of cardiovascular disease risk factors and study design.

An analysis of the 24 studies that met the criteria is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“We found that consuming more than half a serving per day of red meat, which is equivalent to a three ounce serving three times per week, did not worsen blood pressure and blood total cholesterol, High Density Lipo-protein (HDL)/ ‘good’ cholesterol, Low Density Lipo-protein (LDL)/bad cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, which are commonly screened by health-care providers,’ O’Connor said.

This research includes all types of red meat, mostly unprocessed beef and pork. Professor Campbell said more analysis is needed as the evaluation of blood pressure and cholesterol are not the sole determinants for someone to develop heart disease. The length of time these experiments were done ranged from a few weeks to a few months as opposed to the years or decades that it could take people to develop cardiovascular disease or have a cardiovascular event.

Meanwhile, in a rare move, AIM published an editorial in the same issue that slammed the latest study as a ‘politicization of science’ and said that recent guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public Health England and WHO all show ‘remarkable consistency.’

AIM decided to publish both the new study and the critical editorial because sugar consumption is ‘of great interest’ to readers and their patients, said Editor-in-Chief Christine Laine in an emailed statement.

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