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Friday, March 16, 2012

Does Red Meat Raise Risk of Death?

"Eating Processed Meat and Red Meat Significantly Raises Risk of Death (Study)" (click link to view article)

View full study here

Have you seen this story?  Sounds pretty definitive doesn't it?  I don't buy it.  It doesn't pass the common sense test to me.

Whenever I read an article or study telling me what foods are great for me, or what foods are going to kill me, I try to take a step back and ask myself "does this make sense?".  This one doesn't make sense to me!

They are trying to tell me eating a food (red meat) that has been consumed for millions of years by the human race, a food which the human race evolved and thrived on for millions of years, a food which helped the human race develop over every other primate, leads to death?  I'm not buying it!

(That tribesman better not eat that Kudu!  It might kill him, according to the study!)

"But Mike, the study showed red meat will kill you!!!"

Not so fast!  What did this study really show us?  First of all, I question the reliability of how the study was conducted.  "Diet was assessed by validated food frequency questionnaires and updated every 4 years."  In other words, they asked people what they ate and how much.  They didn't witness any food entering anybodies mouths.  They didn't control what was being consumed or how much was being consumed.  I have been working with people in the personal training business for over 6 years.  I ask a lot of people about their diet.  There are two things I have learned over the years.

  1. People have no clue how much they actually eat
  2. People have no clue what they are actually eating
I sometimes ask people to write down everything they eat for three days.  Every person that has done this is shocked by how much they actually eat.  Most people have no idea how much food they are actually putting into their mouths every day.  When I first started recording what I eat, I saw I was consuming close to 3500 calories!  I knew I ate a lot, but 3500 calories!  I was shocked.

People also have no idea what they are actually putting into their mouths.  It's not that people are dumb.  They have just been fed so much bull shit over the years it is hard to know what to believe.
"Whole Grains, Calcium, Vitamin D"  Must be good for you right?
Chicken skin is bad for you, right?  "Yeah Mike!  It is fatty!  It will clog your arteries!"  OK, we know there are different types of fat.  There are saturated fats and unsaturated fats.  We know the consumption of unsaturated fat improves health and reduces risk of heart disease.  "Yeah Mike, like the fat you get from nuts and seeds, right?"  That's right!  Do you know where you can find these fats other than from nuts and seeds?  "Where Mike?"  CHICKEN SKIN!  Click here to view chicken skin nutrition facts.  Chicken skin contains 15g fat per serving.  4g saturated fat.  Which means 11g are unsaturated!  So this food, which everybody thinks is going to clog your arteries and give you a heart attack, contains twice as much unsaturated fat (which we agree reduces risk of heart disease) than saturated!  This is just one example of how uninformed most people are about nutrition.

If the general public has no clue how much food they actually eat and have very little knowledge of what they are actually eating, how are we suppose to rely on the data collected?

According to the methods "questionnaires were administered biennially" (every 2 years).  What did you eat for breakfast yesterday?  What did you eat for dinner 3 nights ago?  3 weeks ago?  Two months ago?  I have a hard time remembering what I ate this morning, much less what I ate for the past 2 years!

There is another issue with this study.  They make the following statement; "Substitution of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains for red meat was associated with a significantly lower risk of mortality".  OK, but is the lower risk of mortality due to the decreased consumption of red meat or the increased consumption of fish and nuts?  We know fish and nuts contain high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are directly linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  Therefore, if you eat more fish and nuts then you will be healthier.

Take a look at this table from the study.  When people ate more red meat they ate far less fish, which means they are consuming far less Omega-3 fatty acids.  I would like to see what would happen if you consumed the exact same amount of fish and changed only the amount of red meat you consume.  Would the risk of mortality still increase with the increased consumption of red meat, or would the continued high amount of fish intake keep the risk low?

The biggest problem with nutritional studies is there are too many factors.  It is impossible to pinpoint exactly what nutrient, or type of food, is causing a certain outcome.  Is it the increased consumption of one nutrient that is causing a problem, or the decreased consumption of another nutrient?  What would happen if you consumed high levels of both nutrients?  What would happen if you consumed less of both nutrients?  When you eat more red meat are you eating less vegetables?  Less fruit?  Less fish?  What if you kept your consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish and nuts high while also eating high amounts of red meat?

This study does not tell me the answers to these questions.  To make the blanket statement that "red meat significantly raises risk of death" is irresponsible! Keep it simple.  Eat what nature gave us.  Eat red meat.  Eat fish.  Eat vegetables and fruit.  Eat the chicken skin.  Eat a variety of foods to ensure you are getting every nutrient your body needs!


Love it! So sad how uninformed we are.

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