Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Red Meat Study: Here We Go Again

red meat: not the culprit!

Recently, Harvard came out with a study claiming that eating red meat may lead to a shorter life. Researchers examined thousands of people and correlated red meat consumption with an earlier death compared to those who consumed less red meat.

Here is the study if you'd like to take a gander at the charts: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality

I am not going to break this down in detail because plenty of similar studies have been put out there, but I do want to emphasize that CORRELATION does not imply CAUSATION. Is it true that shoe size is correlated with reading ability? Yes. Is it because bigger shoe size causes people to read better? No. The answer is that a twenty year old will typically have a better reading level compared to a five year old (and incidentally, also have a bigger shoe size)

You know what else the researchers found? "Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers, to drink alcohol, and to have a higher body mass index." Here's the table if you'd like to see for yourself. 

Also, let's talk about how they used data that was only taken from participants every 4 years. Every 4 years?? Yes, in the third line of the study researchers say "Diet was assessed by validated food frequency questionnaires and updated every 4 years." How reliable and consistent could this data be? Considering these questionnaires require participants to remember what they ate, I'm going to say not very.

Let's face it, although red meat consumption may be correlated with increased mortality rate, it in no way proves that red meat CAUSES it.

In this CNN article, Staffan Lindberg gives his take on it:
Staffan Lindeberg, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the University of Lund, in Sweden, says singling out red meat may be counterproductive. A bigger threat to health is the sugar- and starch-heavy Western diet as a whole, says Lund, who studies heart disease and diabetes and advocates a version of the so-called Paleolithic diet, which emphasizes lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.
"We need to focus more on common foods, like grains, dairy foods, refined fats, and refined sugar," Lindeberg says.
if you prefer meat of the dried variety, make your own Homemade Jerky

I also couldn't believe that these researchers were villianizing saturated fat from the start. I thought media was heading in a good direction, but this clearly puts us two steps back. Plenty of vegetarians and vegans will use this as ammo when trying to talk you out of eating red meat. IGNORE THEM!

I don't disagree with the researchers recommendations to increase seafood intake, especially if it's omega-3 rich salmon, sardines, etc. As for cholesterol, you should already know that people's numbers normalize after taking SUGAR and GRAINS out of their diets, not meat. We are biologically omnivores, whether you want to admit it or not. So feel free to order that burger (especially if it's grass-fed!), just don't eat the bun and get it wrapped in lettuce instead. Yum.

 What are your thoughts on this study? Will it make you decrease, increase, or keep the amount of red meat you consume? 


  1. I think Paleo followers will always state the study was wrong, unless it was a study supporting meat. When the facts are that if you follow those studies supporting Paleo they almost always are funded by the cattle industry. Curious.

  2. Intelligent criticism of this study would have to include some explanation of why they are making inappropriate causal inferences. To do that you have to critique the statistical methods used to control for possible confounding factors, some of which are mentioned in this article.
    You are concerned about the validity and reliability of the survey, did you look at the validation studies?
    Until you manage a more in depth criticism, you're blowing hot bullshitty air.

  3. Anonymous,

    "When the facts are that if you follow those studies supporting Paleo they almost always are funded by the cattle industry."

    What studies would that be? If you can't cite even one study specifically don't make blanket statements.

    I assume that the second comment is made by the same anonymous commenter as the first, but if not then let me throw in this question. Have YOU read the study or at least its abstract? I have. It indeed suffers from some of the issues mentioned here and in the links to refutations of the study. There is no way I would consider this observational study for any form of guidance with regard to my personal nutrition. What it might be good for is forming a hypothesis for a true scientific study, but as far as making sweeping conclusion like "eating red meat will kill you", no. If you choose to believe that conclusion and eat acccordingly more power to you, you'll get no argument from me. Just recognize who in fact is the one "blowing hot, bullshitty air".

  4. Here's an post that provides a pretty good overview of what the study was actually about, what it is good for and what it isn't good for, and why a lot of the criticism of the study is overblown:

  5. I think the "air" is fine. The blog post is well written and is accurately sharing the "fact" that the study is inappropriately calling "correlation," "causation." This is unfortunately typical of many studies.

    I appreciate your blog post and will be linking to it from my website. Your thoughts on the article are right in line with mine.

  6. one more info

    “Each additional daily serving of processed red meat (bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, and bologna) was linked with 20% increased risk of death overall, 21% increased risk of heart disease-related death, and 16% increased risk of cancer-related death.” — Bastyr Center

    thx for share, i hope someone will read this and stop eat meat everyday in mcdonalds

  7. Yes - Processed red meat. Processed red meat will kill you. A small amount of unprocessed lean meat per week is good for you. Lots of good nutritional stuff we can't get in such a small package anywhere else.

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