Numerous studies since the 1960s have linked consumption of red meat to an increased risk of breast and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes,cardiovascular disease, and other conditions, Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare professor of epidemiology and nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), said in a webinar sponsored by the organization Healthy Food Action. The organization promotes a healthier food system for Americans, including more sustainable farms to grow and produce healthy food.

Asked if there was a safe amount of red meat to eat, Willett said “There’s no clear cutoff where there’s a safe amount to consume. From the available data, it’s as little as possible.”

Willett was one of three nutrition experts who discussed the health, environmental, and social sustainability factors related to consumption of red meat and processed meat in the U.S. in a program entitled “Meat Matters Webinar series: What Meat to Eat.” The event, held December 4, 2014, was co-sponsored by the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future, and the American Holistic Medical Association.

Willett recommended swapping meat servings with healthier protein choices like plant foods, legumes, and nuts, followed by poultry and fish. The Mediterranean diet — rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits, and vegetables — is one of the healthiest diets to follow, he said.

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