This article is part of a special report on Red Meat. To see the other articles in this series, click here.
You might have seen an article in your newspaper or online touting a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that “strongly” linked red meat consumption with cancer and an increased risk of death. Heck, how could you miss it? Google shows 547 new articles about the study, and it was mentioned in just about every major newspaper in the U.S.
(That’s not an accident, by the way. It’s an intentional attack by the tyrannical meat-hating scientific majority, the same folks who brought us the “cholesterol causes heart disease” and “saturated fat is bad for you” myths.)
Trouble is – as is so often the case – the study is deeply flawed. In fact, anyone with training in research methodology might find themselves wondering “where’s the beef?” after they read it. In the end it’s just another piece of worthless propaganda parading as medical research. It tells us a lot more about the biases and motives of the researchers, and the incompetence of the media reporting on it, than it does about the effect of red meat consumption on human health.
Here are my “top 10” reasons to ignore this study and continue to eat your grass-fed, organic red meat:
1. It was an observational study. Observational studies can show an association between two variables (i.e red meat consumption and death), but they can never show causation (i.e. that eating red meat caused the deaths). A simple example of the difference between correlation and causation is that elevated white blood cell count is correlated with infections. But that doesn’t mean elevated white blood cell counts cause infections!
2. The relative risk reduction (RRR) was slightly over 1.0. Most researchers don’t pay attention to an RRR under 2.0, due to the notorious difficulties involved with this type of research.
3. Two articles were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition at around the same time that directly contradicted these results. The first study pooled data from 13 studies and found that risk of colorectal cancer was not associated with saturated fat or red meat intake. The second study found that there was no difference in mortality between vegetarians and meat eaters.
4. The authors didn’t adequately control for other dietary factors known to increase morbidity and mortality. As another commentator pointed out in her analysis of this study, “Americans get their “cancer causing” red meat served to them on a great big white bun with a load of other carbohydrates (soda, chips, fries) and inflammation-causing n-6 vegetable oils (chips, fries, salad dressings) on the side.” It’s more likely (based on other studies, including the two mentioned above) that the increase in deaths was caused by the junk food surrounding the red meat and not by the meat itself.
5. The basis of measurement is a “detailed questionnaire”. Questionnaires about one’s diet are always error prone as remarkably few people remember accurately what they eat on any given day, let alone over a period of years. Furthermore, most people lie about what they actually eat, especially now that proper diet has been given a quasi-religious significance and eating poorly is equated with being morally inferior.
6. Check out this quote from the Archives of Internal Medicine study:
“Red meat intake was calculated using the frequency of consumption and portion size information of all types of beef and pork and included bacon, beef, cold cuts, ham, hamburger, hotdogs, liver, pork, sausage, steak, and meats in foods such as pizza, chili, lasagna, and stew”.
In other words, even those people who ate things like hot dogs and hamburgers (with buns made of refined white flour), and who ate pizza (on refined white flour crusts) were included in the ‘red meat’ group. Also, those who ate processed or cured meats, such as ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, or cold cuts (with possible nitrates) were included in the ‘red meat’ group. And those who ate prepared food (with unknown additives and preservatives) such as pizza, chili, lasagna, and stew were also included in the ‘red meat’ group. Therefore, this study does absolutely nothing to prove that red meat, and not these processed and highly refined foods, is the culprit.
7. The quality of the meat consumed in the study was not taken into account. Highly processed and adulterated “factory-farmed” meats like salami and hot dogs are lumped together with grass-fed, organic meat as if they’re the same thing. It’s likely that very little of the meat people ate in the study was from pasture-fed animals. Factory fed animals are fed corn (high in polyunsaturated, omega-6 fat), antibiotics, and hormones, all of which negatively impact human health.
8. We don’t know anything about the lifestyles of the different study groups. Were they under stress? Did they lose their jobs? Did they have other illnesses? Did they live in a toxic environment? All of these factors contribute significantly to disease and mortality.
9. We don’t know if the people in the study ate more sugar, processed food, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, additives or fast food – all of which are known to cause health problems.
10. We don’t know if the people who ate more red meat were better off financially than the people who ate less red meat, and thus had more exposure to the “medical industrial complex” – which, as you know from my previous article, kills more than 225,000 people per year and is the 3rd leading cause of death in this country.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Me? I’m gonna go have a big, juicy, grass-fed steak.
Further recommended reading
- Meat and Mortality. A great critique of the study by Dr. Michael Eades, author of Protein Power.
- More on Meat & Sustainability. A Challenge to Environmentalists.
- The Red Scare. Another insightful analysis over at Mark’s Daily Apple.