If you’ve read health headlines recently, you’d think that red meat consumption is a one-way ticket to an early grave.
A recently-published Harvard study implied as much and media outlets couldn’t resist the provocative headlines: “Eating All Red Meat Increases Death and More Reasons to Never Eat Meat”, says the Daily Beast
“More Red Meat, More Mortality”, says the New York Times
“Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths”, says the Telegraph
But is the scare warranted? As with many studies on health and nutrition there tends to be a disconnect between what a study actually shows and how it is interpreted by media outlets.
Here’s the real scoop
The study showed that every extra daily serving of unprocessed red meat (steak, hamburger, pork, etc.) increased the risk of dying prematurely by 13%.
Processed red meat (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and the like) upped the risk by 20%. Sounds pretty alarming until you delve a little deeper.
Correlation vs Causation
Epidemiological studies are not randomized controlled trials and hence do not control for other lifestyle factors. One of the papers this study pooled from was the Health Professional s Follow-up Study, which showed that red meat eaters were also more likely to;
- Be less active
- Smoke more
- Drink more
- Consume more calories
As you can see it may not be the red meat but rather the HABITS of red meat eaters that poses the increased risk of premature death.
Take Home Points
- Don’t jump! When looking at studies, be sure they control for other lifestyle factors before drawing conclusions.
- Red meat contains a plethora of vitamins, minerals and is a fantastic source of protein
- Eating red meat in moderation hasn’t been shown to cause premature death (up to 3oz per day) – as per this Japanese study.
- When eating red meat, aim for minimally-processed sources and preferably grass-fed sources.
- Vary your protein sources to include poultry, fish and non-meat sources of protein
Most importantly, eat healthily most of the time, exercise daily and enjoy life!