Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Will red meat really kill you?

A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine correlates eating any type of red meat with a higher risk of mortality. This 20-year study followed 110,000 adults and concluded that eating red meat of any kind may be risky. The lead author of the study, An Pan, said in an interview that "Any red meat you eat contributes to the risk."

Does this mean we all have to stop eating red meat at the risk of dropping dead? Probably not. The authors of the study themselves suggest modest dietary changes (eat red meat a couple times a week instead of every day) rather than red meat abstinence. Despite what may be suggested by many news organizations' headlines, this study does NOT establish a causative relationship between eating red meat and death. Instead, they have correlated these two things. Other factors may be at play.

There are other valid criticisms of the study, or at least limitations on what can be concluded given the data at hand. The authors do not differentiate between unprocessed and processed meat (things like bologna, bacon, and hot dogs) in the study. Since processed meats have already been shown to increase your risks for certain diseases, these specific types of meat may be more to blame than the unprocessed sort. Also, the study relies on self-reported data, which is not always the most accurate way to judge human behavior. Via BoingBoing, a great explanation of the study, what it has found, and what it has not found, is located here. It's recommended reading for all carnivores.

The take home message seems to be that, for now, although we're not certain that eating red meat will harm you, it seems to be correlated with an increased risk of death. We do know that consuming certain types of red meat is likely to increase your risk of certain diseases, so it's a good idea to reduce your intake to no more than a couple times a week, and to balance it out with other types of protein as well as lots of fruits and vegetables, the consumption of which seem to be correlated with good health outcomes.

Since meat is also expensive, calorie-dense, and producing it is environmentally taxing, that seems to be pretty good advice for your health, your wallet, and the environment.

(Image: Beef!, a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 image from Michael Cannon's photostream)

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