According to the New York Times, the consumption of red meat is linked with an increase in cancer and heart disease, in short it will kill you faster.
Now before we dive into the actual study, in the sense of full disclosure, I am a convinced (and healthy) carnivore and love a good steak any given time of the day.
The study looks at about 120,000 men and women, who filled out health related questionnaires and the conclusion is the following: people who increased their red meat consumption by 3 ounces daily were at a 12% higher risk of dying, “including a 16 percent greater risk of cardiovascular death and a 10 percent greater risk of cancer death.”
At first glance, this might make you want to become a vegan but someone needs to stand up for red meat and it might as well be me. So here are my problems with the study:
1. What kind of red meat are we talking about? Obviously, consuming hot dogs and lunch meats is something entirely different that eating flank steak or bison, both in terms of transfats and added chemicals. The article gives a partial answer by saying “The increased risks linked to processed meat, like bacon, were even greater: 20 percent over all, 21 percent for cardiovascular disease and 16 percent for cancer.”
2. “People who ate more red meat were less physically active and more likely to smoke and had a higher body mass index, researchers found.” Sorry, I don’t see the connection between red meat and smoking. Couldn’t it be that the cigarettes were responsible for the higher cancer rate?
As for the higher body mass index (which is a questionable instrument to begin with since it doesn’t take into account actual body fat vs muscle) , my theory is that those people simply had poor nutritional habits to begin with. here is an analogy: someone goes to McDonalds and eats a burger with fries and a milk shake. Did his weight increase and health problems really stem from the red meat? Or might it have been the extra 2000 calories?
On the flip side, people on diets tend to eat more fish and chicken since they are less calorically dense than red meat.
3. Lifestyle. We do not get an idea whether the participants were physically active. Needless to say it is different if an athlete with 5% body fat eats a NY strip steak or someone with 35%. Why? Somebody who is obese has more cholesterol in his body already (stored as body fat) so his levels are bad to begin with, the steak will not to anymore damage.
Overall, I am not putting my steak knife down just yet. Red meat is an excellent source of protein, zinc, creatine and b-vitamins. Humans have consumed it for hundreds of years with going extinct, what has changed is our overall calorie intake and an increase in processed foods. Yes, red meat contains more fat – especially saturated fat – than fish or chicken but some saturated fat and cholesterol is needed for our brains, nerves and to make testosterone.
If you have a reasonably lean body fat percentage, are physically active and stay away from processed meats, I can’t imagine how quality red meat could harm you. I would even go as far as stating that it is performance enhancing.
I believe one of the main mistakes we make in our views in regards to diet is that we focus on one piece of the mosaic instead of the whole.
- 80’s: Fat is evil, eat fat free angel cake and gummi bears!
- 90’s: carbs are evil, eat cheese and butter!
- 2000s: green tea cures every thing..no, fish oil does..no eat only acai berries…etc
The human body is a very complex system and it is hard to determine the exact cause and effect of increased mortality, so I suggest to reduce your stress levels, eat smart and exercise. Its a proven formula for success and better bodies.