Five Reasons Why Red Meat is (Still) Good for You

There’s a good chance you saw the reports last week that red meat is bad for you. A new study has just come out. And hot on its release is an extensive media campaign citing it as proof that red meat is just as bad as the experts have been saying for years.

This new study made the headlines of almost every major paper and hundreds of sites online. “Red Meat will kill you” screamed one headline. While another takes this one step further by saying, “Red meat will seriously kill you!”

It’s no wonder that the media has seized on the study. It comes from Harvard. So it must be credible, right?

The important hook is that it says that any red meat, not just processed, is bad for you. And if you just read the one-line conclusion like most medical reporters do, you’ll see that it says red meat increases your risk of cancer, heart disease and death in general.

However a careful review of this study shows just how flawed these conclusions are. For one thing, the study includes hamburger meat in the unprocessed red meat category. But an even bigger problem is that the data is based on epidemiological studies. In other words the data is based on people’s vague memories of what they ate during the last two years. That’s means it’s not a controlled study and the information isn’t likely to be accurate.

The other problem with this kind of study is that it accepts confounding evidence. That means you base your conclusion simply on linking two things together. So in this case, more red meat and more death means…red meat causes death. But there are loads of other factors that can contribute to this outcome.

And this study is a perfect example of why this methodology is flawed. The data in the study shows that the people who eat the most red meat also exercise less, smoke more, and don’t get enough vitamins. So why is red meat the single source of all these ills? Surely an all-round unhealthy lifestyle contributes more greatly to them?

Certainly some experts think so. One of them is Dr. John Briffa. He’s a prize-winning graduate of the University College London School of Medicine. He also practices medicine at London’s prestigious Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth.

“In the populations used in this study, those who ate more red meat were less physically active, more likely to smoke and drink alcohol, and generally heavier too,” says Dr. Briffa.

Two Harvard-Based Studies in Conflict

The new headline-grabbing study comes from a couple of Harvard researchers. They published their findings about a week ago in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

These researchers built their study around data from two earlier studies. And their conclusions were pretty damning.

  • · Unprocessed red meat increased your risk of death by 13 percent
  • · Processed red meat increased your risk of death by 20 percent

Now that’s a pretty serious finding.

But it runs contrary to a slightly earlier study, also from Harvard, which shows that red meat is fine.

As we told you at the time, these Harvard doctors looked at data from 20 different studies. And they found that red meat wasn’t the problem. It was processed meat like sausages and bacon that affected your health.

That certainly makes sense because there are plenty of things wrong with these types of processed meats.

That’s because they contain chemicals, preservatives, and additives. They’re often also smoked, cured or salted.

These meats are also loaded with sodium and nitrates. And that’s bad news: Salt hikes up your blood pressure; Nitrates increase plaque in your arteries.

Some of these meats even contain high levels of benzo (A) pyrene which is a cancer-causing chemical.

So how can these two studies show such different results?

Well, for one thing the actual findings in the new results don’t really match what the headlines are saying.

Five Things You Need to Know About This New Study

If you actually look at the new study, the results are much less clear. But there are four things that you really need to know about them.

1) As we said earlier, the results were observational and based on people’s memories of what they ate over a two-year period. This kind of information is not going to be very accurate. It’s not like these people were part of a controlled study were they checked in on a weekly basis. They basically had to sum up their eating patterns of the last two years.

2) When the researchers compared unprocessed red meat against processed red meat, they included hamburger meat in the unprocessed category. Obviously hamburger meat is often processed so it’s anyone’s guess why this made it into the unprocessed category. And its inclusion makes the unprocessed vs. processed claim meaningless.

3) The bad findings were based on a group of red meat eaters who didn’t just eat red meat. As you can see from the table below (taken from the folks at Mark’s Daily Apple), they also smoked more, exercised less, and didn’t take any kind of vitamins. Those three things alone are more likely to cause health problems than eating red meat.

4) There was also a big difference in caloric intake between the red meat eaters and the non-red meat eaters. In addition to smoking more, exercising less and not taking vitamins, they also ate double the amount of calories. As you can see from the graph below, (also from Mark’s Daily Apple,) men eating the most red meat were also eating way more calories than men eating the least red meat. In fact, a whopping 737 calorie difference. For women, it’s even worse. Those eating the least red meat ate 828 less calories less than those eating the most red meat. Again, such a huge caloric difference alone is going to have a big effect in your overall health. But if you don’t look at the actual findings within the study for yourself, you’ll never hear about this.

5) The final problem with this study is that it doesn’t take into effect how these people prepared their meat. Many studies have shown that grilled, fried and charbroiled meats contain heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and lipid oxidation products (LOPs). All of these substances are deadly and can even contribute to cancer.

There are so many flaws in this study that Dr. Briffa says it “smacks of bias.”

He says the authors seem “committed to finding a link between red meat and worse health outcomes.”

And he says they were “disinclined to let anything get in the way of that finding and the message that we should be eating less meat.”

Be Specific About Your Meat

There’s one other big failing in this study. The researchers didn’t look at the difference between organic and conventionally-raised meats. They ignored what the animals were fed and the hormones they were given.

And that’s important. Think about this for example. The beef from corn-fed cows can have as much 50 times more omega-6 fatty acids than greens-fed cows. Too much omega-6 in the diet has been conclusively proven to promote inflammation and oxidation in the body. This can lead to both heart disease and cancer.

And as we’ve also told you many times, most red meat is grain fed and pumped full of hormones, nitrates and preservatives.

But grass-fed beef is totally different. It’s organic, natural and hormone free. That makes it’s a completely different animal altogether.

All this study confirms is that you should avoid processed meats. You need to be sure you’re exercising, not smoking, and that you limit consumption of alcohol. And make sure you take a daily vitamin.

More specifically, as with any foods you consume, consider what else might be in it and how it is produced. You should only pick organic, hormone-free cuts, preferably raised on their natural diet. That’s the best way to get the protein you need to build tissue and muscle and balance your healthy hormone levels. And you’ll do all this without the negative side effects of the preservatives and nitrates often found in grain-fed meat.

There’s one more thing you should think about. And that’s how you prepare your meat. We told you about the dangers of preparing meat the wrong way just before. If you want to avoid all the dangerous substances that come from cooking your meat the wrong way, be sure to cook it slow and low.

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Health Topic: Diet and Nutrition | Top 5's


  1. John Jenks says:

    Where do you buy grassfed meat? I believe everything in the supermarkets is cornfed.

  2. Ian Robinson says:

    Hi John,
    Thanks as always for reading our stuff! I actually have some good news for you on this subject. You can buy grass-fed beef if you live near a Publix grocery store. It’s the 14th largest retailer in the US so there are plenty of them about. If you live in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or Tennessee then you’ll be in luck. If you don’t, it’s not a problem. You’ll find that Wal-Mart also sells cuts, along with lots of wild-caught fish varieties, for really affordable prices. You can always find it at organic grocery stores too. Any trader Joe’s or Whole Foods will sell choice cuts of grass-fed meat or wild-caught fish. Hope this helps!

  3. Teddy says:

    Thanks Ian. I actually get Omaha steaks which is great quality though a little pricey. I am totally for grass fed beef but our culture is still in complete denial on both ends. Hence the opportunity for companies to jack up their prices. Who would have thought that less ingredients would cost more?

    And I love wholefoods but we still have a disconnect in our society and until we actually as a species reduce our intake of meat (putting the squeeze on big agriculture) not because of health reasons but because it’s time we start putting all of our focus on grass fed beef. Think about it, is it really a good thing economically to have a wendy’s, a burger king, and a mcdonald’s all within a block radius? No. But processed meats allow for that to happen. They call it business competition, I call it an atrocity.

    But it’s hard to argue when broccoli or spinach cost more that won’t feed a family vs the dollar menu.

  4. Ian Robinson says:

    Hi Teddy. I couldn’t agree more! Great post.

    Best –


  5. Doreen says:

    There’s another way to get better meat, that is not processed. You can go to a local store like for example in FL, we have Sedano’s and also Bravo and Tropical supermarkets. All cater to Latino and Caribbean shoppers.
    There, I choose (for a price Lower than Pre-ground beef) a big chunk of Round or Sirloin, say at $1.99 per pound, often limited to one purchase with $10 in Other meat dept purchases….
    The guys behind the counter cut it into steaks, stew and grind the rest, just how I want it. This meat is trimmed and cut/ground right before my eyes, so I Know it’s not processed and has not been sitting there developing salmonella. I take it straight home and package it airtight bags the size I will need for each meal.
    We care for elderly in an Assisted Living home in SE Florida. We also have Publix markets but grass fed beef is not something I can afford to buy in this economy.

  6. Ian Robinson says:

    Thanks for your post Doreen. You bring up a very important point…grass-fed beef is pretty expensive and I think it’s great you’re looking for ways to keep your meat fresh and less processed. We live in tough economic times with food prices going through the roof, so if price is an issue, there is an alternative source of healthy protein. Think about buying wild-caught fish…as opposed to farm-raised. Places like Wal-Mart and Target sell many types of wild-caught fish for genuinely competitive prices.
    Hope this helps!

  7. Josh says:

    “Sodium nitrate may be used as a constituent of fertilizers, pyrotechnics and smoke bombs, glass and pottery enamels, as a food preservative (Really?) and a solid rocket propellant. It has been mined extensively for these purposes.” All you have to do is look at what else it’s used for.

  8. Tyler Durden says:

    Phenomenal article! If there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s when people (or the media) treats a study as bible after only reading the conclusion, or someone’s report on it. If you cannot find the fine details, and there have not been other studies which repeat the results, then it should be taken with a grain of salt.

    As for Josh’s comment on sodium nitrate, I can list a huge number of poisons, weapons, and lethal substances water is an ingredient in. This certainly doesn’t make water unhealthy. That is a very flawed argument in my opinion. I’m not necessarily saying sodium nitrate is good…I’m just saying, choose a better way to prove your point. Looking at other uses for a substance tells us very little.

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