This morning we came down for breakfast to find a page of a newspaper on the dining table. Judging by the the circled headline, we suspected that a concerned relative wanted to grab our attention:
A blanket beef-bashing statement, nothing new there. Our first red flag that the article should not be taken seriously went up upon seeing that this article did not make the front page of the LA Times – it was in the EXTRA section, whatever that means. Considering how many individuals consume red meat you’d think a proclamation of this magnitude would command front page status.
We continued reading, finding ourselves increasingly pissed off by the continually vague, loaded statements. The article begins:
“Eating red meat — any amount and any type — appears to significantly increase the risk of premature death, according to a long-range study that examined the eating habits and health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years. ”
This is a bold statement for an article that goes on to provide no evidence to back up its claim. Instead the author opts to rattle off vague yet strangely specific statistics like “one 3oz. serving of unprocessed red meat – picture a piece of steak no bigger than a deck of cards – to one’s daily diet was associated with a 13% greater chance of dying during the course of the study.” No definition is provided for “unprocessed meat.” Is this blanket term supposed to encapsulate varieties of meat raised on healthy diets of grass and devoid of antibiotics? Are they really saying that when it comes to health, all meats are equal? The continuation headline reads: “Any way you cut it, meat’s a problem.” Now we’re getting cocky. The article is littered with scare-tactic proclamations. Just to make sure you’re properly spooked, the words “death,” “dying,” and “mortality” are littered throughout. Despite the overconfident tone, the article offers no evidence or theory as to what about meat consumption causes this Super-Death, just regurgitated tips on avoiding the stuff.
Completely dissatisfied, we tracked down the original publication of the study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. (The LA Times article only linked to an editorial piece brimming with nutritional inaccuracies that accompanied the study.) As we suspected, the inconclusive nature of the LA Times article was indicative of an underwhelmingly inconclusive study.
From the “results” section of the study:
“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. In addition, a higher red meat intake was associated with a higher intake of total energy but lower intakes of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Unprocessed and processed red meat consumption was moderately correlated.”
So, hey – get this! Smoking, drinking, and being obese may increase your risk of death! We’re no scientists but even we know one of the first rules of scientific study is that correlation does not imply causation. We don’t know anyone who smokes more, drinks more, or is obese because they eat red meat. To the contrary, we and others we know have experienced physical improvement on a diet high in red meat. The sad fact remains that many “health-concious” people these days do avoid red meat to one degree or another. Just as in the Times article, the study makes no distinction between types of meat other than “processed” or “unprocessed.” We have no idea which participants in the study were eating grass-finished meat, or antibiotic-fed meat, and all factors regarding how the livestock were raised and fed are neglected completely – either due to ignorance or intent.
“In conclusion, we found that greater consumption of unprocessed and processed red meats is associated with higher mortality risk. Compared with red meat, other dietary components, such as fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains, were associated with lower risk. These results indicate that replacement of red meat with alternative healthy dietary components may lower the mortality risk.”
All of a sudden we’re not so cocky anymore, backpedaling with words like “associated” and “correlated.” As for evidence, well, there is none! The study throws out a few potential “explanations” as to why red meat kills, and, well, it’s The China Study all over again. Some doozies include “increased risk of coronary heart disease” possibly associated with “saturated fat and cholesterol,” dietary iron, and sodium content. That’s about as detailed as it gets.
Unsurprisingly, after looking into this study we are convinced it’s trivial. Almost every story in the so-called news is tailored to induce a specific reaction rather than to inform their audience.
If you would like to learn more about our stance on red meat, feel free to peruse the following links. And remember, a healthy dose of skepticism helps to keep you informed.
This post was contributed to Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, Healthy 2Day Wednesdays, Pennywise Platter, Simple Lives Thursday, Fresh Bites Friday, Friday Food Flicks, Fight Back Friday and Freaky Friday.