Fire up the grill and put some steaks on the barbie. Eating red meat is apparently a lot less harmful than previously thought.
A new study states that previous claims of the harm done by eating beef and pork are inaccurate. It was thought for decades that eating too much red meat contributes to heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.
But the study, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded that meat was probably only a contributing factor to disease — not decisive — and cutting consumption would only marginally improve risk factors.
Previous studies have come to the conclusion that consuming less red and processed meats leads to lower rates of heart disease and diabetes and death from certain cancers. However, these new findings claim that many of the previous studies used to inform the guidelines, for example, were riddled with competing conflicts of interests. And, the studies were mostly observational, so they were limited in the conclusions their researchers could really draw, the authors write.
The news has shocked the nutrition world and, as when myths about salt intake causing high blood pressure were debunked, has received pushback from nutritionists.
But the study has left much of the nutrition world shook. An essay published on Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health calls for the study to be held for further review.
“This is a prime example where one must look beyond the headlines and abstract conclusions,” the letter says.
“I am outraged and bewildered,” Stanford University nutrition scientist Christopher Gardner tells NPR. “This is perplexing, given the … clear evidence for harm associated with high red meat intake,” adds Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition chair Frank Hu.
It reminds me of the Woody Allen film Sleeper, where Allen portrays a health food store owner frozen after dying in 1970s New York. When revived 200 years later, he discovers everything he believed about healthy food was wrong.
Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.”
Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or… hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy… precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible.
It may be “incredible” but not surprising. We’re just beginning to understand how the human body works. We know where everything is, what everything does, we have a rudimentary knowledge of how to fix things, but the big picture escapes our understanding.
We know that certain foods give us energy and protect us from disease, but beyond that, all we have is observational evidence about what harms us. We are unlocking the mysteries of the cell, but the workings of the body at the sub-cellular level are just now beginning to be understood.
We’ll get there. But in the meantime, who do we listen to? As a patient living with heart disease, I can tell you that this new study will have absolutely no effect on my diet. While there may be other contributing factors to heart disease, there is no doubt that red meat contains fat. And depending on the cut of meat, a lot of fat. Those of us on a low-fat, low-salt diet know that small portions of red meat are OK on rare occasions, but a catcher’s mitt-sized T-bone should probably be avoided.
I worry that studies like this will be misinterpreted by those who have to keep their fat intake to a minimum, giving them “permission” to go back to old, bad, habits. Better to ignore this study and eat healthily and responsibly — good advice for any reason.