The Heat Over Red Meat

There’s been a lot of hype going around about red meat being bad for you. It causes heart disease, is worse than smoking, it makes you dumber, etc. (okay… I made that last one up). Hey, headlines grab attention! This type of “fake news” has been going on for years and people are starting to realize that the info from documentaries and media sources is about as true as the rest of the stuff you find on the internet. In many cases the media has no idea of what constitutes a valid scientific study. I’m not an expert on scientific studies either, but in my past engineering background I did a lot of Design of Experiments and know how much “noise” can affect results you are trying to measure. Media is fixated on these cohort studies (Google it) that are notoriously unreliable versus Randomized, Controlled Trials. Cohort studies can show correlation, but can not prove causation… and here lies the root of the problem.

A hypothetical cohort study may show that both shark attacks and ice cream sales increase in summer months. Are more people swimming in the ocean during summer months when it is hot out? Probably. Are more people eating ice cream on hot summer days? Probably. These two things “correlate” well… but do increased ice cream sales “cause” more people to be attacked by sharks? Highly doubtful!!! This hypothetical study can’t prove causation, ie. that increased ice cream sales actually cause an increase in shark attacks.

Media likes to sensationalize things. They focus on things like “Relative risk” statistics instead of “absolute risk”. Also, while the studies look at red meat consumption and the risk of diseases (heart attack, stroke, etc.) most do not compensate for the “noise” of who the people are that are being surveyed (the self reporting surveys are a problem in itself… do you remember what you ate over the last month?). But who are these people? Skinny, obese, sedentary, active, smoker’s, non-smokers, etc. all factors that also affect disease rates. If you don’t control for all these other factors there ends up being a lot of “noise” in the data. But it’s not just the people. What is the definition of unprocessed red meat? Would you be surprised if your favorite fast food burger was considered “unprocessed” red meat by some studies? Way too much noise to draw any cause and effect conclusions. Remember when eggs were bad for you, or drinking milk, or a whole list of shocking headlines of the past that were debunked?

On the flip side of the same token, keep a skeptical eye out whenever you hear of new workout routines or supplements (which may be a future topic) that promise some super-duper results! Most of these claims can never be backed up by a truly independent Randomized, Controlled Trials either.

Simply put, red meat is safe to eat as part of a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle. Can you have too much? Well of course. Too many carbs are bad. Too much fat is bad. Heck, even drinking too much water can kill you (Google up “water intoxication” or “Hyponatremia”). Everything in moderation. That being said, processed meets are high in nitrates and heme which there is “good evidence” that contribute to the formation of carcinogenic compounds that may increase the risk of cancer. Does that mean I don’t enjoy a hot dog every once in a while or my prepackaged smoked turkey breast lunch meat? No. Also, cooking meat at high temperatures (grilling/frying) to “well done” causes the formation of compounds that may increase the risk of colon cancer in some people who have a genetic polymorphism, but this is not conclusive. I like my steak medium, so I’m not too worried.

But heck, what do I know! Don’t take my word for it. Make the decision for yourself. Here’s a couple of links to articles (that also have links to many more studies and facts) to get you started.

Muscle For Life: Is Red Meat Bad For You?
Robb Wolf Review of “What The Health” documentary

Till next week…. stay healthy, stay happy, and stay strong! ~Ryan

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