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.
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.