So, I’m sure you’ve heard the news about the latest “red meat is bad for you” study.
Well guess what? There are no perfect foods. And while my research creds aren’t all that (and pretty rusty as well), my feeling about these kinds of “correlation is not causation” studies is that the real damage is potentially leading folks towards ‘analysis paralysis’ and a bit of “what the hell” about their diets. Who needs it?
My suggestion is to eat the best quality whole foods you can. Full stop.
But if you want more details about this recent study, here are brief takes from some (mostly) skeptical folks I read regularly.
I encourage you to read their full posts for lots more detail. J Stanton’s in particular will give you a great overview in the inherent problems with these kinds of correlative studies.
Robb Wolf — Red Meat: Part of a Healthy Diet?
Here is what folks need to understand, in crystal clarity: This study SUCKS. It was a waste of time and money, the study design is atrocious and it elucidates NOTHING that has not been (poorly) investigated previously! Folks, if you see “retrospective cohort” it should not be taken with a grain of salt, it should be taken with several hits of LSD so that you have a valid reason for perpetuating this fantasy.
Zoe Harcombe — Red meat & mortality & the usual bad science
The numbers are very small. The overall risk of dying was not even one person in a hundred over a 28 year study. If the death rate is very small, a possible slightly higher death rate in certain circumstances is still very small. It does not warrant a scare-tactic, 13% greater risk of dying headline – this is ‘science’ at its worst.
J Stanton — Always Be Skeptical Of Nutrition Headlines
Nurses and other health professionals know intimately the mainstream advice on health, and cannot fail to have given it to thousands of patients over the decades: “eat less, stop smoking, drink less alcohol, avoid cholesterol, avoid saturated fat, avoid red meat.” Therefore, any health professional willing to admit in writing to smoking, drinking, and eating over three servings of red meat per day (see the NHS data in Table 1) most likely doesn’t care very much about their own state of health.
And just as we saw with the HRT data—where a theoretical 50% decrease in heart disease was later proven to mask a real 30% increase, due to the selection bias inherent in the very same dataset (Nurses’ Health Study) used here—I think that we’ll someday find out through controlled, randomized trials that eating plenty of red meat, eggs, and other whole, natural foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat is the real “heart-healthy diet.”
Denise Minger — Will Eating Red Meat Kill You?
For those of you who hoped this analysis would completely obliterate any link the researchers found between red meat and “dying prematurely,” here’s the anticlimactic part. In the context of what’s ultimately wobbly, imperfect, and tragically inconclusive observational data, the researchers did find that the folks reporting the highest intake of red meat had slightly elevated rates of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and total mortality (though as we should know by now, correlation isn’t causation!). …
Those numbers thrown around in the fear-mongering news clips—20% increased risk of death from all causes for processed meat and 13% increased risk of death from all causes for unprocessed meat—are classic examples of how even the most ho-hum findings can sound dramatic if you spin them the right way (and remember to attribute them to Hahhh-vard). If your risk of dying from a particular disease is 5% to start with, a “20% increased risk” only bumps you up to 6% in the grand scheme of things. That’s a lot less scary. Especially when delectable foods are involved.
Darya Pino — Red Meat Is Killing Us All! Or not…
Lastly, although the authors included controls for lifestyle factors I’m highly suspicious that people with so many unhealthy habits are at an increased risk of death primarily because of meat consumption. Consequently, all that I’d feel comfortable concluding from the new analysis is that in the context of a Western diet, eating something other than meat every once in awhile is probably a good idea. Outside of the Western diet? It’s much harder to say.
Yoni Freedhoff — What Reading that Red Meat and Die Study Actually Told Me
Well you’re going to die regardless of what you eat, but this study would suggest that you’ll die ever so slightly younger if you eat red meat each and every day of the week, and even younger still if you eat processed red meat each and every day of the week. Did you catch the caveat of each and every day of the week? It certainly wasn’t hidden in the study.
Update, 3/15: Love this from @StabbyRacoon on Twitter:
New confounder: Red meat eaters are more likely to have a heart attack because the media keeps scaring the hell out of them about red meat.