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Justin Fox

What Decades of (Sometimes Dodgy) Dietary Advice Made Us Do

For decades, Americans cut back on beef, butter and eggs, but kept consuming more calories. That’s finally changing.

All part of a balanced breakfast?

All part of a balanced breakfast?

Photographer: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

In September, a team of researchers made a well-publicized recommendation that people start eating... about as much red meat as they already eat. This was not based on any new medical findings, and was described by its authors as a “weak recommendation” with “low-certainty evidence.” But that was kind of their point. Previous warnings against eating red meat, they concluded, were “primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences.” That is, we all eat and do lots of different things, and it’s really hard to suss out what causes what.

This new advice is part of a broader backlash against how nutritional research is conducted and communicated.

“The field needs radical reform,” Stanford Medical School Professor John P.A. Ioannidis wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year: