I’m skeptical of the red meat study

We’ve all heard ‘meat and potatoes’ dishes referred to as a ‘heart attack on a plate.’  What we may not have suspected was that it was actually the potatoes that might do the damage, not the meat.

But, I’m sure that’ll be a hard sell after the recent Harvard red meat study.  It’s been getting much press lately. Most press reports say something like: “Eating a lot of red meat will kill you. Guys from Harvard say so.”

The first day that this came out, I asked an associate to identify potential problems with the study. We have to pick apart similar studies all the time for our jobs. I thought this would be good practice. He did a great job.

And so did CNN for including his primary concern in their online article about the study. Something I haven’t seen other media outlets do yet.

Unfortunately you have to make it to the last two paragraphs of the CNN article to read it. Here it is:

Studies like Pan’s are inherently iffy due to red meat’s unhealthy reputation, which makes red-meat consumption difficult to tease apart from a person’s overall lifestyle, Lindeberg says. “Red meat has been perceived as a villain for many years, and people who avoid red meat take all sorts of precautionary measures for their future health,” he says. “It is not possible to statistically adjust for all of these measures.”

Sure enough, Pan and his colleagues found that the men and women in the study who ate the most red meat also tended to be heavier, less physically active, and more likely to smoke and drink alcohol than their peers. However, the researchers did take those and other factors into account in their analysis.

In other words, the researchers may have really found that overall unhealthy people die prematurely. Wow.

For those who would like to know more about the flaws in the diet and health research, I recommend reading Gary Taubes. He has done a fabulous job in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories at casting credible doubts on past health studies like this one, which form the foundation of the of diet and health ‘conventional wisdom’ that has helped drive increases in obesity and Type II diabetes.

Taubes’ book is big. If you don’t have that kind of time, download and listen this Econtalk podcast that had Taubes as the guest (also available on iTunes). The podcast is an 1 hour and 22 minutes. Listen to it while you workout. I do.

Not only does Taubes cast doubts on these studies, he demonstrates that some of these studies never actually proved the hypotheses (that are now conventional wisdom) like “fat is bad for you”.  When the researchers with these hypotheses didn’t prove them, they’d just say, “well, this study didn’t show it, but we’re certain that it’s just a matter of time that other studies will.”

Over time, it was the domineering personalities of these researchers and political connections that eventually thrust their unproven hypotheses into the realm of conventional wisdom.

The nanny government of the 60s and 70s felt they needed to give guidance on healthy eating (hmmm), so they took the conventional wisdom from these researchers (it’s easy to sell BS to the public when you can say things like “research suggests”, even when it doesn’t) and created the food pyramid, which has helped wreck our health and medical system.

For making it to the final paragraphs of this post, I’ll reward you with the hypothesis Taubes’ has to explain our declining health: sugar & flour. Especially refined sugar, starches and flour. Taubes thinks these boost insulin levels, which tells the body to store fat.

When you see an overweight person, don’t think about how much they eat. Rather think about how much sugar and starch they eat. Don’t believe Taubes? Cut back on your sugar (candy, cookies, mochas), flour (bread, pasta) and starch (fries, chips) for a few days, eat a little more fat, protein, fruits and veggies and watch the scale.

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4 thoughts on “I’m skeptical of the red meat study

  1. Thank you for your information. I am getting so annoyed reading the study, and all my patients are now asking me if they can eat red meat (I’m a dialysis dietitian). Love that the ‘bad guy’ is automatically red meat, and not sugar, gluten, smoking, alcohol, inactivity or overweight. And this study is based on people recalling stuff, and in my experience, this is not super reliable. I believe red meat has a lot of nutritional benefits, and like anything (besides sugar), if consumed in moderation, is part of a healthy diet!

  2. Pingback: I’m skeptical of the chocolate study | Our Dinner Table

  3. Pingback: Experts vs Trial and Error | Our Dinner Table

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