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A new study is generating a lot of buzz in health circles. While I’m still working on my educational classes (which will go into great detail about general nutrition as well as foods like dairy, meat, grains, and produce), I felt compelled to comment on this study considering all the attention it’s getting.

This was a cohort study which analysed the intake of over 100,000 individuals. The results of the study concluded that those who consumed the most red meat were more likely to die 20% sooner than those who consumed less red meat. The authors of the study concluded:

“Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies”.

Well, there you have it folks, time for me to chuck out all the beef I have in the freezer!

Okay, not quite. Let’s get into the details here. As I mentioned, this was a cohort study, so it was purely observational, and it checked in with participants (via a questionnaire) every 4 years to analyze their diet and general health (and whether or not they died). The end result, as stated, showed that the more red meat you ate, the more likely you were to see an early grave. Does this sound familiar? Why yes, I talked a lot about cohort studies in my article Will Ditching Meat Save You From Disease?. Here are some basic questions that the study fails to address:

What kind of meat was consumed?
Pastured? Organic? Conventional? Burger King?
What was consumed along with the red meat?
What was the health-related lifestyle of these individuals like?

Without these being properly answered, how can it come to the conclusion that it was the meat?  What if the red meat eaters consumed white bread and vegetable oil along with their steak? That would increase their risk of heart disease and cancer. If these same individuals drank a soda at each meal, that would increase their risk of diabetes and obesity. All of these factors will increase the risk for mortality. So hey, where’s the beef?

Ben Coomber sifted through the full study and made some fantastic bullet-points:

  • The people that consumed the least amount of meat did the most exercise, so there was a correlation that the people already looking after themselves presented less disease risk and thus ate less red meat anyway
  • Smoking in the high meat group was almost double
  • % rate of current diabetes was almost double in high meat group
  • The people that consumed the least meat actually had higher cholesterol levels
  • More “healthy” participants consumed a multi-vitamin
  • High bad meat consumers drank 1.5x more alcohol
  • High bad meat consumers consumed nearly 1/2 as much fish indicating 80% lower levels of omega 3 fats
  • Both men and women with high processed meat intake were less likely to exercise, more likely to smoke, have more body fat, eat more calories good and bad in general, eat less fruit and vegetables and drink more, a catch 22 bad lifestyle making you more prone to disease
  • The study showed a correlation that red meat consumption is declining in general, but we are seeing higher rates of disease, so is it the red meat or a multitude of factors that is effecting the rate of disease?
  • So in light of the above the study focused on red meat but reported the people eating the most red meat also had all the other lifestyle factors that lead to disease in the bag!
  • If you consume more processed meat like hot dogs you will be at a high risk of disease
  • The review understands that one of the two pooled studies didn’t differentiate between red meat and processed meat….. epic fail!
  • They appreciate that cuts of meat were hard to quantify and left room for error in terms of things like ham, red meat, rate of processing as it was up to the participant to quantify and tick a box … Hmmm
  • They were unable to assess the impact of fat content in the meat and disease correlation as there were too many variables
  • People consuming processed meats have higher chance of impaired insulin response – a key marker of diseases like diabetes linked to a multitude of other diseases
  • The link to red meat and cancer ACTUALLY seems to come from high temperature cooking which causes carcinogenic materials to be released! So it’s not just red meat but how we cook it
  • The conclusion they made: replace red and processed meat with fruits, vegetables, whole grains etc – so what they are really saying is be healthier. No mention of all the other lifestyle factors that they correlated like exercise, smoking etc etc

Considering all these caveats. would you attach your name to this study? Would you support the conclusions of this study? I’d be embarrassed to associate myself with it, personally, and I’m amazed that these researchers can actually stand by this turd.

It’s poor studies like this that have a dramatic effect on the dietary choices of the public. It only serves to misinform them, and in 20 or 30 years, we’ll hear that the research was wrong all  along. It is very unfortunate that people have to suffer because of bad research.

To get a humorous look at what’s wrong with cohort studies, click here.

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