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Will red meat kill you?

Well, maybe if it's part of a hungry lion and you're unarmed and looking particularly tasty in the veldt.

But will eating red meat kill you, as so many news articles are now proclaiming, based on this study?

Turns out the answer is probably not. Mark Sisson of "Mark's Daily Apple" - the paleo-lifestyle go-to mentor - analyzes the faults in this study and especially the media's misapprehension of it, and systematically tears it down. The most salient points:

  • It's an observational study (not science per se)
  • ...based on self-reporting eating and other behaviors on a bi-annual basis.
  • Participants clearly lied about their intake, because the average person in Australia clearly consumes more than 1200 (women) - 2000 (men) calories per day.
  • ...but more important is that the self-reporting meat-eaters reported eating 800 more calories per day than the non-meat-eaters
  • ...any amount of which could be hamburger, which (if American eating habits are under discussion here) was likely delivered buried in special sauce, cooking grease, and refined-flour buns.
  • They also smoked more
  • ...were less active
  • ...and took fewer multi-vitamins
  • Oh, and the meat-eaters had lower cholesterol.

Why wasn't the title of the report, "Eating red meat lowers cholesterol"?

When I first saw the news reports on this study, I was a little concerned about eating paleo-style. Well, it seems those concerns were unfounded. The important hypothesis that I get from this observational study (which Mark points out is only the first step in the scientific method)?

Avoid eating fast food, eat fewer calories, get more exercise, and don't smoke.

World-shattering, I know.

There you have it: This study tells us nothing new. What people should not get out of this is that you should eat more grains and seeds - these we know are bad for human consumption (see Mark's "Start Here" page).

Thanks for the heads-up, clevermanka!




( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 14th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
Less jibber-jabber about red meat and more jibber-jabber about pulsars! I want my pulsars! =)
Mar. 15th, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)
Yes, soon! Just catching up with work and saw this, which I figured was important for everyone to see ;-)
Mar. 14th, 2012 07:36 pm (UTC)
Why I tend to ignore "studies" as popularized in media until I can dig through the details. I worked too long and hard getting the basics of hard empiricism driven in to my skull to take any "study" at face value before I can look at the design and tear the "conclusions" down into real-world probabilities that are actually supported by the data.

Edited at 2012-03-14 07:39 pm (UTC)
Mar. 15th, 2012 12:58 am (UTC)
Mar. 14th, 2012 09:15 pm (UTC)

I saw a note on FB from a friend of a friend, who said she was using standard protein powder (the weightlifters' type) to lose weight-instead of 4 scoops in whole milk, she was using 1 scoop in skim milk as a breakfast replacement. She had lost 30 pounds in 3 months, if I recall correctly.
Mar. 14th, 2012 09:55 pm (UTC)
That's amusing. On a similar note, when I was doing more strength training, I used Slim-Fast as a protein supplement because my wife found it in bulk at a price that was better than the stuff they sell at the gym.

As for red meat, there's a more convincing argument against it: a lot of it comes from environmentally damaging factory farming practices, overuse of antibiotics, and so forth. To me that's grounds to reduce it to a flavor-booster rather than to get rid of it, since some can be produced sustainably.

Mar. 14th, 2012 10:34 pm (UTC)
I'm rather lucky that way; I live in a town of around 1,000, with farmers in every branch of my family. I can call up the neighbor, and he has a freezer full of meat from grass raised, feed polished steers, that he then takes to a local processor. It costs a little bit more, but SO MUCH BETTER FLAVOR!

And I'm right with you on factory farms; I can't stand feedlots, or hog confinement facilities, or chicken sheds either. I'm really wishing I lived far enough in the country to have a small chicken flock; just 6 layers or so, and then buy a couple dozen chicks in the spring for fryers (of course, if I had my way, I'd have a Noah's ark of animals, just because I like them).

I've never looked at Slim-Fast's ingredients compared to the protein powder; if I ever use this container up, I'll have to look into it!
Mar. 15th, 2012 01:06 am (UTC)
I'm planning on going in with others and get a half-cow or pig or such soon so we can eat animals that ate the food they were supposed to eat (and enjoyed a better life). The real problem with beef is when they feed cows stuff that isn't grass (like OTHER COWS) - the omega-6 vs. omega-3 ratio goes all outta whack when they eat the wrong food, and if red meat is bad for us, that's when it is.
Mar. 16th, 2012 11:06 pm (UTC)

It would be nice to be able to eat meat fresh off a sustainable farm, rather than fattened up in a feed lot. I could do that through a retailer like Whole Foods, or maybe even through farmers' markets, but the former cost a bundle and without research it's hard to tell whether the latter means sustainable farming or a poseur reselling stuff he picked up at Wal-Mart.

As for the Slim-Fast, the ingredients list includes whey powder (the same protein source as the stuff from the gym), sugar, chocolate, and vitamin supplements. Considering that, it might have been more cost-conscious to just buy the whey powder and mix it with our own flavors (whether that means sugar and chocolate or some other sort of food such as fruit juice, soup, bread, etc.), rather than buying it pre-mixed. On the other hand, whey powder seems to sell in massive packages, which have the "if I ever use this container up" problem you note. We haven't even used up the three cans of chocolate-flavored protein mix, and the straight powder would take even longer.

Mar. 17th, 2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
Have you ever looked at this website?


They have a link that you can take directly to Kansas, and get a list of direct-purchase meat, eggs, dairy...all sorts of things! I've seen chicken, pork, mutton (goat wouldn't surprise me), beef & bison.
Mar. 17th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the tip!
Mar. 23rd, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
Nice site, but it does suffer a bit from information overload. Last time we bought meat we went to a local retailer and bought organic grass-fed ground beef. It was convenient to buy the small package that fits the recipe, even though I know it would be cheaper to buy in bulk direct from a farmer.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 09:39 pm (UTC)
Yes, if you are ever in the back of beyond, they can find a farmer for you!

There's a link there that will take you to a map of Kansas, and a listing of Kansas farms/businesses.

Where I live in McPherson County, there's two different local butchers' shops within a 30 mile radius, and several more within a 50 mile radius. So that's handy!
Mar. 23rd, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
I live in the Seattle area, and when I looked at the Washington state page I didn't see a more detailed map. Maybe I need to look around the site a bit more carefully.
Mar. 17th, 2012 02:22 pm (UTC)
Actually, it can take you to any state, not just Kansas! :)
Mar. 15th, 2012 01:03 am (UTC)
Ha! Though Slim-Fast is full of crap, while the protein supplement I use is nuthin' but whey protein. More expensive, though.

I hear you on factory farming. REALLY looking forward to when we can buy vat-grown meat....
Mar. 16th, 2012 11:22 pm (UTC)

As I wrote in a moment ago, there is a lot of sugar in it, so maybe the price difference is a wash.

I see vat-grown meat articles now and then. Something I'd be interested to read is a projection of how environmentally justifiable vat-meat would be, when the technology reaches plausibility. Would it take more or less input food energy to grow meat in a bulk culture? Would it take more or less water? Could medicines be avoided because sterile conditions can be maintained? Would nasty hormones be necessary? Will the effluent be clean and recyclable, or even worse then a feed lot? Will the taste be satisfactory? Will consumers recoil at the idea, applaud avoidance of animal slaughter, or see it as a commodity? Those sorts of questions would be nice to address in articles about the technology, even if the current answers are "we don't know yet."

Mar. 17th, 2012 03:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, avoiding all sugar is the goal, right? That's why the protein powder I use is nothing but protein. Tastes plenty sweet, which makes me wonder why corp's feel the need to add sugar.

I love the idea of vat-grown meat for ethical reasons. I'd prefer not eating animals grown only for human consumption, at least that they get to have an enjoyable life pre-slaughter... but if I could avoid that entirely, much better. But you're right: At the moment, we _can_ grow meat in tubes, but it's soft and slimy instead of meaty.
Mar. 15th, 2012 01:01 am (UTC)
Well, that would be a good way to lose weight while helping maintain muscle mass - though the whole vs. skim thing is a bit misleading, because whole has more of the stuff a body needs than skim!

Still, way fewer calories and bad stuff than in a typical breakfast of processed carbs and sugar!
Mar. 14th, 2012 11:46 pm (UTC)
Whew. That's good news. I live in friggin' Argentina. If red meat kills you, I'm a total goner.

Also, despite consuming large animals on a daily basis, people here are thin and relatively long-lived...
Mar. 15th, 2012 01:08 am (UTC)
I know! Paleo eating is about eating RIGHT, not eating LESS. By skipping food intended for birds and rodents (seeds and grasses) and getting our calories from veggies and animals, humans can actually eat MORE calories!

But of course it's more filling to eat real food, so this kind of eating style lends itself to staying trim.
Mar. 15th, 2012 02:58 am (UTC)
These "studies" seem to pop up time and time again, probably by chicken producers, but I can't seem to figure out the funding for this one. "Follow the money" is my favorite way to decide if it's even worth considering reading.. usually the answer is "no".
Mar. 15th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
I wondered the same thing about this study. I suspect the lead scientist wanted to find a reason that red meat was bad for humans - maybe a vegetarian? It's easy to find corrolation when you're looking for it.
Mar. 16th, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC)
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I can follow the money..

Departments of Nutrition (Drs Pan, Sun, Bernstein, Stampfer, Willett, and Hu) and Epidemiology (Drs Manson, Stampfer, Willett, and Hu), Harvard School of Public Health, and Channing Laboratory (Drs Sun, Stampfer, Willett, and Hu) and Division of Preventive Medicine (Dr Manson), Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, Lyndhurst, Ohio (Dr Bernstein); and Department of Molecular Epidemiology, German Institute of Human Nutrition, Nuthetal, Germany (Dr Schulze).

Let's see .. doctors, hospitals, medical schools, who are most likely well-funded by who? Drug companies. Who stands to profit from a healthy population? Not them.
Keep tweaking those studies to convince a public that that you're the experts in "healthy eating" while guaranteeing that same public will fall to enough illnesses to keep you profitable.

I know.. preach/choir :)

Mar. 15th, 2012 11:37 pm (UTC)
According to that study, my eating habits have killed more people than red meat.
Mar. 17th, 2012 04:00 pm (UTC)
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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