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Is Red Meat Really as Bad For You as “They” Say?

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Is Red Meat Really as Bad For You as “They” Say?

Red meat is being denounced as the new smoking but does it deserve all the hate? Here’s the long story short.

 

Scientists are on quite a “meat will kill you” kick these days.

Every few months some new study pops up blaming red meat intake for everything from heart disease to cancer to flat-out death by anything.

Newspapers and magazines catch on and the sensationalism begins. Bold headlines splash onto newsstands like “All red meat is bad for you,” “Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths,” and “Scientists warn red meat can be lethal.”

Millions of people take these warnings at face value and eliminate red meat from their diets out of fear…but are the sound bites true? Is red meat actually as dangerous as we’re being led to believe?

Read on to find out.

What Is Red Meat?

is red meat bad for you when trying to lose weight

It might sounds like a silly question but do you know what does and doesn’t qualify as red meat?

We all know that cow meat is considered red meat but what about pork? Lamb? Chicken and turkey?

Well, red meat is simply meat that is red when raw and not white when cooked, which includes the meat of most mammals.

Here’s a simple list of red meats:

  • Beef
  • Veal
  • Sheep
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Ham

Chicken and turkey are not considered red meat.

Is Red Meat Bad For You?

eating red meat bad

With news headlines like “Red meat triggers toxic immune reaction which causes cancer,” it’s easy to understand why more and more people are giving up the weekly barbecues.

The first thing you need to know, though, is the media loves to misinterpret research and misquote researchers. It makes for better stories.

Another thing you need to know is the difference between observational research and experimental trials.

Observations are the first step of the scientific method and are meant to point the way for further research or generate hypotheses. They can point to correlations but cannot be used to establish causation. Ever.

For example, there’s a statistical correlation between the number of people who drowned by falling into a pool and the number of films Nicolas Cage appeared in.

is red meat bad for you

Cage’s movies may be bad but deadly? I don’t think so.

Jokes aside, the point is observational research can never provide enough evidence for establishing what’s really going on.

Only clinical trials allow scientists to create a rigorous, controlled environment where they can test and validate or invalidate theories.

Does the media care about this, though? Absolutely not. All they need is a whiff of a correlation to break a story proclaiming causation.

This is why new stories proclaim vitamins give you cancer and this is what is happening with the red meat scare. The media is taking observational research and reporting correlations as definitive facts.

For example, scientists from Harvard published a study in 2012 that followed over 120,000 women and men and found that a single daily serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of death from all causes. A single daily serving of processed red meat was associated with a 20% increased risk.

That whipped health writers into a frenzy almost overnight, the spark turned into chain lightning, and eating red meat became the new smoking.

There were serious problems with this study and its findings though.

For example, in analyzing subjects’ diets, hamburger was included in the category of “unprocessed red meat,” and was likely a major contributor to the category.

No, not homemade ground beef patties made from pasture-raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free cows…just hamburgers. The morsels that fast food dreams are made of.

Another flaw is the study tracked whole grain intake but didn’t track refined grain intake, which means we’re left to wonder about how many of those hamburgers were mashed between fluffy, white flour McDonald’s buns.

Yet another pothole, and this one is pretty large, is how the data on food intake was gathered.

Subjects filled out “food frequency questionnaires,” which are limited checklists of foods and beverages with a section to report how often each was consumed over a period of time.

One of the major and well-documented problems with food frequency questionnaires is people often report what they think they should be eating rather than what they actually ate.

And let’s face it—most of us struggle to remember what we ate last week let alone what went into our mouths over the last six months.

That’s not the only problem with food frequency questionnaires.

Equally vexing is the fact that people tend to underestimate their intake of foods like processed meats, eggs, butter, high-fat dairy products, mayonnaise and creamy salad dressings, refined grains, and sweets and desserts, and overestimate most of the vegetable and fruit groups, nuts, high-energy and low-energy drinks, and condiments.

It’s also known that women tend to be less accurate in their food reporting than men.

As you can imagine, when you combine spotty memory with reporting biases, the results are…less than reliable.

And yet the studies hijacking news headlines every few months very often involved food frequency questionnaires for data gathering.

Another thing you have to keep in mind when looking at observational research is how other factors inform the bigger picture.

For example, when you review the data in the Harvard study on the lifestyles of the subjects, you find that, according to food reports, the people eating the most red meat were the most physically inactive and  likely to smoke and the least likely to take a multivitamin supplement.

Their daily calorie intake was also higher and they were more overweight, drank more alcohol, and tended to eat less healthy foods in general.

Little-to-no exercise…being overweight…smoking…drinking alcohol regularly…eating too much junk food…that’s a pretty darn good recipe for dying young, with or without red meat.

Now, the Harvard study is only one of several studies used to stoke the flames of red meat hysteria, but we don’t need to review them all here.

The long story short is it’s just more of the same. Observational research, design and execution flaws, and the rest of it.

So where does all this leave us, then? That we should thumb our noses and eat all the red meat we want? Not necessarily.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

How Much Red Meat Should We Eat?

red meat bad for you

Red meat has quite a few health benefits.

It’s high in protein, iron, zinc, B-vitamins (including B12), and other nutrients such as carnosine and creatine, which improve physical performance.

And given what we now know about the overhyped risks associated with eating red meat, there’s no reason to feel guilty for eating a juicy steak or hamburger.

That said, there are a few things you should know about how it can affect your health.

Research shows that some people (myself included) have a genetic polymorphism that may increase the risk of colorectal cancer from eating meats that are cooked at very high temperatures, like frying or grilling to the point of being well done.

The simple explanation is cooking meat this way creates several types of compounds that may contribute to cancer, and while the association isn’t conclusive yet, I’m playing it safe and limiting my intake of grilled or overcooked meat. (And yes, this applies to all meats including red meat, fish, and poultry.)

Another potential risk comes from processed meat products like hot dogs, hams, bacon products, pre-packaged deli meats, and other products that are pink, cured, and preserved with sodium nitrate.

There’s good evidence that two substances found in these foods—nitrates and heme—contribute to the formation of carcinogenic compounds known as nitrosamines in the body, which increases the risk of cancer.

The research shows that it’s reasonable to assume that eating too much processed meat can cause cancer but without controlled interventions, which would never pass an ethics board due to the possibility of actually giving someone cancer, we can’t say for sure.

Personally I treat processed meats the same as I treat grilled or overcooked red meat.

I’m not afraid to have a hot dog or some deli meat now and then but I eat very little of these types of foods and recommend you do the same.

The Bottom Line on Red Meat and Your Health

why is red meat bad for me

The take-home message of this article, and of the research we’ve discussed, is this:

  • Don’t be overweight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Eat several servings of fruits and vegetables per day
  • Avoid processed meats
  • Avoid overcooked red meats

Do all that and you’ll be in the best possible position to live a long, vital, disease-free life.

 

What’s your take on red meat and your health? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • David Murphy

    I eat my red meat its medium-rare and try to cook other meats by poaching them so I guess I’m good to go for another while! With BLS and as soon as Triumph comes back I will be as healthy as can possible hahaaa

    • Haha yeah you’ll be fine. 🙂

      Right, deep fried food is one type that you should limit your intake of. Sauteed is totally fine.

      • David Murphy

        New word for the grammar bank! SAUTEED!

  • raistrick

    I highly suspect the genotype bit is out-dated and false. Their paper doesn’t really check for confounding, although they highlight it. The effect size is small. It’s pre-genomics era (and large-scale arrays don’t seem to have found any correlation)… but the bottom line is they rely on cases and controls accurately reporting their diet, which *never* happens.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on that. I’ve read a bit of research on it and spoke with the DNAFit folks a bit and chalked it up to a “maybe.”

      • raistrick

        Indeed. I’m just happy to read a blog with pubmed links!

  • leonight

    hello mike, i am looking a way to quickly prepare meat , not looking for some special reciepes, just a quick way to prepare so that i can eat it . i have absolutely zero experience in preparing any kind of non-veg item.

  • Cardiac

    Hi Mike, great article as always. I just finished the book “The China Study” and it had a lot of compelling arguments and research against meat. So I was wondering if you had ever read it and what your comments on the book are?

  • Howard

    Hi Mike, well that has just ruined my BBQ this weekend 🙂 Seriously when I see this media sensationlism I do view it with a slighty cynical view. There has been so many over the years that all turned out to be unfounded it does make you a little jaded. For example in the UK years many years ago there was a big public outcry against English beef and eggs that nearly crippled both industries which turned out to be rubbish. But once these concepts get into public psyche it can take years to change peoples perceptions. Personally I am more concerned at the moment with pesticides and other crap that seem to be freely evident in all different type of foods that nobody seems to be getting worked up about. I love my red meat and wouldn’t stop eating it but I only have it occasionally and get the best quality cuts i can. I live in Spain and unfortunately I don’t have access tot grass fed beef which I would definitely choose if available. With regard to the processed meats I agree they should be avoided (i mean what part of the animal is actually in them) but I must say a tapas of Spanish Jamon off the bone is a real treat every now and then. Cheers H

    • Haha yup skepticism is warranted for sure.

      Another thing not commonly mentioned is how health habits like regular exercise and eating several servings of fruits and veggies every day far outweighs any negatives from other things.

      • Howard

        absolutely I think we have to remember that when all this type of research comes out. I would love to see more studies on above average health people and see what the statistics are with regard to the major health conditions that we all fear.

        • Very true.

          The results still give you a general idea of what it does to the body though.

  • ChickenEater

    Is it safe to eat red meat cooked RARE if it’s done on the grill?

    How about chicken & other poultry on the grill? If that’s not safe, what’s the best way to cook our chicken?

    Thanks Mike!

    • Remember it’s not that grilled meat is such an issue but it’s probably smart to limit intake, that’s all. For example, a couple servings per week isn’t going to matter and especially if you have a healthy lifestyle, but 3 servings per day may not be a good idea.

  • TD

    I personally know someone that used to eat a TON of almost-charred-on-the-grill red meat, and now has cancer. I definitely limit my consumption of all grilled meat now. Also, I’ve noticed that eating a lot of red meat (in general) makes me feel sluggish, and slightly messes with my digestion. I don’t feel that way when I eat poultry or fish. Although I will say that red meat isn’t the enemy that it’s made out to be at the moment.

    • Sorry to hear that. 🙁

      Limiting the amount you eat is a good idea.

  • Andrew Andrew

    If you count the calories like these guys suggest http://www.advisemag.com/health/how-to-build-muscle-fast-step-by-step-guide/ you can eat as much meat as you want

  • Gorki D Loklin

    I roast organic chicken in the oven at around 160 degrees – no aluminium foil. Is there another/better way to cook it?

    • Totally fine. Again, the point isn’t to be afraid of cooked meat but to get protein from a variety of sources as opposed to just grilled, well-done steak. 😉

  • Gorki D Loklin

    Im sure that all of this scare monger ing is due to the rise of the paleo lifestyle and people becoming well on it – people being well isn’t good for the pharmaceutical business.

  • Tony Colson

    What is the best amount to cook red meat…. medium rare, medium, medium well?

    • Depends on the meat and your preferences. You don’t have to be afraid of well-done meat but it may not be healthy to eat 5 servings of charred steak every day, that’s all, haha.

  • Gary Lewis

    A superb article. Something you might want to look into following a food programme on British TV, was a surgeon advising that to much protein causes kidney stones, which are extremely painful and can only be removed with a simple operation, cause: eating too much red meat/animal fat. The programme showed a yong guy having stones removed. Any knowledge you have on this topic would sure be interesting given our elevated protein intakes for building muscle. Cheers. Keep up the good work you do m8. Gary.

    • Thanks! That’s silly. Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/high-protein-diet/

    • Shawn B

      Perhaps I can add to this, Gary. The idea that “too much” (whatever that is) protein consumption causes urinary calculi of any sort (there are different types) comes from the observation that sometimes the amount of calcium excreted in the urine can rise on a “high” protein diet. This is typically not the case for persons even consuming upwards of 1 gram/pound of body weight/day of protein. Excretion of other substances can contribute to stone formation as well.

      The probability of stone formation is greatly diminished by proper hydration. Even persons on a “low” or RDA-recommended protein intake can get stones if they do not consume enough fluid. Exercise-related underhydration can be a contributor for nearly anyone.

      Also, sometimes minor structural anomalies in the ureters, renal pelvis, or major or minor calyxes can impede urine flow and contribute to stoned formation as can certain medications.

      By the way, the observation mentioned above has also led to the idea that a high protein diet reduces bone density due to the increased calcium excretion. Just keep in mind that weight trainers, when DEXA scanned, have some of the best age-adjusted bone density readings you will see!

      • Gary Lewis

        Hi Shaun, Many thanks for informative addition reply which I found really interesting. I’ve only just spotted it. I understand all your points clearly and bow to your far superior knowledge than mine. Whilst I appreciate very respectfully, Mike’s take on this topic, but from what you are saying, could I interpret from that, that if I am eating red meat, say, at most once/twice per week, as pork too is regarded as ‘red’; that if I properly hydrate myself, my risk of kidney stones (from high protein as a single cause) would be all but diminished? Given the TV programme was focusing on a surgeon who regularly, he says, removing stones for high protein from animal fats reasons, I can’t help feeling this isn’t broscience, I suppose because its been broadcasted on respected UK TV programme. However, your respected knowledge on this would be valued. many thanks, Gary

        • Shawn B

          Hello, Gary.
          I am unclear about the “high protein from animal fats” quote as animal fats have no influence on stone formation. You are correct about the sufficient hydration greatly reducing the risk of stones. I eat a high protein diet (and have for decades — I am past the half century mark!) as does my family and I would never permit that if I was afraid of my family getting kidney stones. My response above did not cover all possible avenues for stone formation, but the risk that you can actually control is in large part determined by hydration status.
          On the animal fats — one reason red meat gets slammed by some is that the fatty acids therein can either be of a beneficial ratio or a potentially harmful ration of n-3 to n-6 . Animals that are pastured, be it beef or pork, have a great n-3 to n-6 ratio. Animals that are fed corn and/or soy in the feed lot, even for as little as three weeks, have a far less beneficial (for us) n-3 to n-6 ratio. Grass fed is best!
          As long as you have no underlying kidney disease, enjoy your red meat two times per week, as you state, Gary, and know that you are getting a superior amino acid profile along with highly bioavailable micronutrients a vegan can only dream about!
          Cheers!

          • Gary Lewis

            Hi Shaun, many thanks for reply, much appreciated and valued the information. Yes, having just not long got started on Calisthenics and some cardio for fat loss, I have come across training experts in their books advocating ‘grass fed’ which from everything you say makes perfect sense to me. I hydrate well with some infused lemon in the water and have no health issues – ever. I suppose with a now elevated protein intake to work on a body weight programme, has heightened my sensitiviy to protein and red meat news items. So, many thanks and thank you for valued information. Very reassuring. Cheers, Gary

  • william

    question: what is ‘overcooked meat’? does this include oven roasted and crocpts?I eat very little red meat, i.e. once a week, but when I do I only eat grass feed.

    • If you’re eating it once per week you have nothing to worry about.

  • Mark Scott

    People think vaccinations are bad for you. People are idiots! No actually, people are sheep… The problem is that uneducated people try to understand scientific findings and usually end up coming up with absolutes, rather than the actual point of scientific articles, but once one person of some repute, or even someone just with a vocal forum such as a trashy tabloid column, start to voice their opinion, millions of people take that at face value and believe it without question. Not to mention the reams of endless contradictions out there (you can drink red wine and it’s good for you….but drinking red wine gives you health issues…make up your minds…!!!)

    • I know where you’re coming from. To be fair, though, there are a lot of dissenting opinions about all kinds of things among scientists too. It can make it hard to know what’s what (vaccination is a good example of this).

      • Mark Scott

        Actually since that ONE paper showing a statistical correlation between vaccines and autism, it has been disproved and the whole scientific community have denounced the claims in that initial paper. let’s understand that, this isn’t a case of add chemical A to chemical B and process C happens…every time…this is someone drawing significance from statistical analysis..and you know what they say about lies and damn lies. Since that paper, there have been numerous studies showing this finding to be false and the whole scientific community agree there is no link…the only people who still believe that are NOT scientists, they are pseudo-scientists or celebrities. The trouble is that once the idea was put out there, people in the media grabbed it with both hands and ran with it, and then it was out there and anything said after to prove it wrong was a “conspiracy”…you just cant win against that.

        Anyway, veered a bit off topic 🙂

        Bottom line, everything will probably kill you if you eat enough of it, people just need to enjoy everything in moderation and eat an otherwise healthy balanced diet. All about common sense really!

        • Oh yeah I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the aggressiveness of the government’s recommended vaccination schedule. I’ve spoken to some well-educated and informed doctors that refused to vaccinate their own children on the standard government schedule to avoid potential complications with the immune system. They spread the vaccines out over a longer period.

          “Everything in moderation.” That’s what my cocaine dealer tells me. 😉

  • Arturo Watts

    I OBJECT!
    Michael,
    I’m a big fan of your writing and your efforts to disseminate high quality, unbiased information, and one of your books has helped me to improve my training efficacy significantly–BUT I must say that you’ve really missed the mark with this article, and here’s why:

    In my view, this article is driven by several scarecrow arguments (11), including your entertaining roast of Nick Cage and you’ve been a bit overzealous in applying criticisms of one paper to entire body of research, but my biggest objection by far is that you’ve completely neglected to discuss the most significant and most clearly established health risk of eating red meat!—and the thrust of the reason that the American Heart Association recommends we limit its consumption (1) (Hardly what you’d call a sensationalist media outlet–if anything they underplay the heart health risks of meat consumption because it’s more PC and agreeable to our sensibilities).

    I’m shocked that in the whole article, you make no mention of the high saturated fat and cholesterol content of red meat, both of which play key roles in atherogenesis through corroborate, plausible biological mechanisms (2,3). That is, they contribute—perhaps, more than any other food you could put in your body—to the build-up of the atherosclerotic plaque which clogs our arteries and is implicated in all ischemic heart disease and 87% of strokes (9), and which collectively accounts for more than a third of American deaths.

    I’m not simply saying “red meat kills a third of Americans” but I absolutely am saying that high red meat consumption is a BIG contributing factor to our (American/developed world) elevated rates of atherosclerosis and heart disease (and yes, that does mean many lives could be saved through significantly reduced consumption—perhaps even as many as 1 in 10, so when articles say “red meat can be lethal,” my understanding of the literature is “the fuck it can”) and this is why research repeatedly shows a dose-response relationship in which individuals in the highest quintile of red meat consumption suffer from ischemic heart disease at significantly higher rates (as much as a 3-fold increase in risk) than those in the first quintile (4,5,6)—EVEN after controlling for differences in lifestyle such as smoking, exercise and alcohol use(6,7).

    The reality is, the more red meat you consume, the higher your blood pressure and LDL cholesterol will tend to be and that’s causal (6,8), and these are two of the most important risk factors for heart disease, the longtime leading killer in the United States.

    Moreover, it’s unfortunate that you cast doubt on the validity of observational
    scientific research as a reliable source of information. While it’s true it can’t prove causation, and I’ll be the first to point out that “What nature hath brought together multiple regression cannot put asunder,” (quote, I believe, is from Richard Nisbett) it is still capable of producing strong and actionable evidence—especially when a large body of research all converges on the same result (which you have dismissed en masse stating that “it’s all more of the same” and which I contest, is not the case).

    There’s no such thing as the perfect study, but when several well-designed, peer-reviewed articles and even many meta-analyses (take citation 5 as an example, though there are several others) tell us the same thing—including various analyses of “natural experiments” such as studies of seventh day adventists who generally have ordinary American lifestyles but tend to have little to no red meat consumption for religious reasons—then that’s suggestive of a real, dollars-to-dog-turds reliable relationship, and that’s what we’re looking at when we talk about high red meat consumption and high rates of ischemic heart disease (which, again, encompasses most heart disease)–do you really wanna dismiss this all and chalk it up to the inaccuracies of food frequency questionnaires?

    In all cases, red meat is just. not. very. good. for you and should be consumed sparingly, if at all (10), and to dismiss the massive body of literature that demonstrates this to be the case is not only misleading but also potentially harmful and I urge you to pull this article or make edits that better reflect the forest beyond the trees of your analysis in order to discuss the realistic, fundamental, intrinsic health hazards of consuming red meat, no matter what
    temperature you cook it at.

    If you can find the flaws in these arguments, I’m all ears, but no collinear lifestyle factors can explain away this link between meat and heart disease link. Not high vegetable consumption, not exercise, not alcohol, not smoking, nothing.

    SOURCES
    (1) Online Article titled “Eat More Chicken, Fish and Beans” available on heart.org

    (2) Siri-Tarino, Patty et al. Saturated Fatty Acids and Risk of Coronary Heart
    Disease: Modulation by Replacement Nutrients

    (3) Nicholls, Steven J et al, Consumption of Saturated Fat Impairs the Anti-Inflammatory Properties of High-Density Lipoproteins and Endothelial Function

    (4) Chang-Claude, Jenny Et al, Lifestyle Determinants and Mortality in German
    Vegetarians and Health-Conscious Persons: Results of a 21-Year Follow-up (NOTE this study did not find significantly higher all-cause mortality in those who ate more meat, but that’s very likely because in this study, the healthy and physically active meat eaters ate VERY LITTLE meat and yet still suffered from a statistically significantly higher rate of ischemic heart disease. The authors wrote “even among the non vegetarians in our study, there were only 0.4% (1.6%) who reported consuming meat (meat products) daily, 6.5% (4.9%) frequently (≥3 times/wk but not daily)” indicating that even at low levels of consumption meat and especially red meat have a negative impact on heart health.

    (5) TJ, Fraser GE, Thorogood M, et al. Mortality in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: a collaborative analysis of 8300 deaths among 76,000 men and women in five prospective studies.

    (6) Mann JI, Appleby PN, Key TJ, Thorogood M. Dietary determinants of
    ischaemic heart disease in health conscious individuals.

    (7) Snowdon DA, Phillips RL, Fraser GE. Meat consumption and fatal ischemic
    heart disease.

    (8) Fraser GE, Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-day Adventists.

    (9) American Heart Association Annual Statistical Report, 2015, page e152.

    (10) Which I could argue convincingly is also true for the consumption of all
    meat, however most people aren’t ready consider such a “radical”
    idea, and I wouldn’t want to make the same communication mistakes as
    Thomas Paine, would I? Wink wink at Sean Patrick)

    (11) In my view, Everything you wrote between “The first thing you need to know…” down to “…reporting correlations as definitive facts is an unfortunately
    convincing-sounding scarecrow argument, take a look at it again and see if you disagree.

    • My position is that red meat isn’t as dangerous as sensationalized news articles claim and that if it’s eaten occasionally as a part of a balanced diet and lifestyle, you have nothing to worry about.

      You’re saying you disagree with that?

      • Arturo Watts

        Hey Michael.

        Yes, I am saying that, in spite of my respect for you as a thinker and a researcher, I disagree with that.

        in my view, if “occasionally” means more than, say, once every couple of months, and especially if it’s once a week or more… there absolutely are some legitimate concerns that one should “worry about.”

        I think you’ve aimed to get a lot of hits by sending out an email with a provocative and crowd-pleasing title (“The Great Red Meat Hoax”) and I fear that what a lot of readers will take away from your article is the simplified impression that “eating red meat isn’t so bad” and then subsequently they will continue to so by their own definition of “occasionally” which may well mean every other day to some people.

        I’d urge you, in the coming months, to gradually consider my arguments and to gradually look into what I’ve said, and see if it really lacks validity. What I think you would find, is that it’s pretty difficult to make a case–based on evidence–that eating much meat is advisable, because the costs outweigh the benefits and the things that meat can provide, such as vitamin B-12 and creatine and heme iron, can be consumed in supplements which do not carry the health risks of high meat consumption.

        I took the time to write a long response in the hope that maybe you’d consider my arguments, because I perceive that you have a large and growing readership of people who trust you and thus a lot of influence to a lot of people’s thinking and in turn, persuading you at least begin critically questioning and researching meat consumption could have a positive ripple effect for other people do the same.

        I’m a vegan (you’ve heard from me before via email), but not an ideologue. I recognize and hate ideological propaganda. It makes sensible people skeptical about whether many a real problem exists in the first place.

        Thus, I advocate that people consider the case for reduced meat consumption, not necessarily for cutting it out completely, because it’s a possibility that people aren’t as likely to close their minds to from the outset. It’s my version of a gateway drug to vegetarianism and it’s in line with and influenced by your point regarding Thomas Paine’s communication error in your book about Genius–which was a great read, by the way.

        There’s no shortage of propaganda which advocates vegetarianism or veganism which unfortunately tends to polarize people’s thinking on the topic. Fortunately, however, there’s also a lot of good science which looks at health benefits of a vegetarian/vegan diet.

        My view is, and you can see if you disagree, such diets are beneficial not just because of the extra vegetables and nuts and fruits they contain, but also because of the things they exclude. Though I’ll continue examining this belief and researching… the more I research it, the more it seems like the science supports this view.

        In sum, all this is to say, that if you changed the word “occasionally” to “rarely,” (and then changed your article to reflect that) I’d probably agree with you, just as I’d agree that smoking one cigarette every few weeks is probably “nothing to worry about” [but considering the science on the topic.. I’m not sure why you’d even want to do that.]

        All the best, Michael. Hope all is well.

        PS: I’ll be in touch with “before and after” pictures at some point. ..Coming up on 10 months as a vegan with about 22lbs of muscle gains in that time.. thanks in part to BBLS. why not round off the year?

        • Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

          Based on the reading/thinking I’ve done, I don’t think there’s anywhere near enough evidence to say that eating meat regularly is flat-out unhealthy. There are too many confounders involved related to lifestyle.

          There’s also the often-overlooked point of context for people like us–healthy, active people that exercise regularly and eat large amounts of highly nutritious foods. These habits alone will cancel out so many negatives…

    • Shawn B

      Be careful with your interpretations of some of this research.

      Dietary cholesterol is not a determinant of atherosclerosis due to liver compensation. Even the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 will dial back on the dietary cholesterol myth. Ancel Keys started this mythical association as he “tweaked” his research to exclude evidence that contradicted his hypothesis. Deplorable.

      All saturated fat is NOT the same. Short and medium chain sat fatty acids do not have the same physiological effects as long chain fatty acids and even then not all long chain f.a.s act the same in vivo. Also f.a.s are typically not consumed in isolation so we must consider effects when consumed with mediator such as those found in vegetables (have a salad with your steak!).

      All LDL is NOT the same. Particle size matters! (I think I’ll print a t-shirt with that statement on it…) Just because a food raises LDL is not necessarily harmful if the particles are the larger, “fluffier”, subtypes. You will need to request a VAP test from your doc for that info.

      Please keep in mind that many studies that consider red meat included PROCESSED meat products in that grouping. I don’t think anyone here would advocate processed meat (hot dogs, bologna, etc.) as nuggets of health.

      Many of the studies you cite are epidemiological in nature. Single variables cannot be elucidated from such so it is easy to confuse correlation with causation.

      Vegans can also develop CAD — my wife has several vegans in her family (due to their religious affiliation) that have CAD. Yes, that is a small sample size, but just because one does not consume red meat is no assurance of good health.

      • Great comment.

      • Arturo Watts

        Shawn, thanks for the information. I’ll look into your points regarding chain-length further. I’ve been aware for some time that dietary cholesterol actually has minimal contribution to blood serum cholesterol.

        However, high consumption of dietary cholesterol is correlated (not causally, I concede) with CVD, because, I would argue, it acts as a proxy, statistically, for a variety of other nutrients whose consumption are causally related to CVD.

      • Arturo Watts

        accidentally hit enter early..

        I would, of course, never argue that abstaining from red meat consumption is an assurance of good health–to me that’s a moot point. There’s no silver bullet for good health. It requires a holistic approach.

        Your comments regarding the Vegans you know are not entirely surprising to me, because a poorly planned vegan diet is also harmful to cardiovascular health. This is because a vegan diet, without supplementation, leads to Vitamin B-12 deficiency which increases homocysteine levels and can cause dysfunction of the endothelial lining with clearly detrimental effects on long term heart health.

        So sure, vegans and also vegetarians can frequently have heart problems, even though they abstain from the consumption of red meat. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to eat it, nor a bad idea to abstain from it. My argument, as you know, is that it’s probably a pretty bad idea to consume red meat, (and I am distinguishing it from processed meat, as many of the epidemiological studies I cited also do) on a consistent basis.

        But really, I’ve sort of tailored this argument as a response to Michael’s article above. My broader thesis is that meat, in general, should be consumed sparingly, because epidemiological studies have consistently found that meat consumption increases one’s risk for ischemic heart disease in proportion with the quantity of consumption, and after controlling for differences in lifestyle.

        Is Red Meat the culprit? Not necessarily. Is a vegan diet healthy? Not necessarily. Is high consumption of nuts and vegetables protective against heart disease and many cancers? Yes. Does that confound the data in epidemiological studies? Yes, it does.

        I’m not saying the evidence provided by epidemiological studies proves anything. I’m saying the relationship in, now, a preponderance of studies by authors who are not stupid and make efforts at controlling for confounding variables, is strong enough that it should make a reasonable person think carefully about consuming high quantities of meat.

        I’ve heard all the arguments that attempt to explain away why it is vegetarians have significantly longer life spans and significantly less heart disease and cancer than meat eaters, and those who eat a lot of meat tend to die earlier and suffer from these disease at a higher rate. Believe me, I understand the concept that correlation is not causation and I would agree that vegetarians tend to be more health conscious while those in the highest category of meat consumption are less so.

        But when we rush to defend the American sacred cow of (high) meat and dairy consumption, and to dismiss the evidence that vegetarians enjoy better health and lifespans some 3+ years longer… when we dismiss this evidence in such a wholesale fashion because we’re suspicious that it’s because they “live healthier” and not because, hey, maybe less meat consumption is part of the equation.. we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

        I would ask whether you’ve conducted your research with a particular outcome in mind–that is, seeking to find evidence that confirms your extant views or negates views that you find unappealing, and if so, then what is the good in researching in the first place?

        For my part, I’m aware that I’m biased. I think the meat production industry is ethically repulsive and environmentally destructive on a level that few anthropological activities can match and on the whole the consumption of meat is morally indefensible. But even in spite of holding radical views, I do believe I’m pretty good at letting the research shape my views and never the other way around.

        All the best, mate. Pardon the long delay in responding.

  • Coleary

    Its interesting, this subject came up on your site. A friend of mine recently visited Kenya and Tanzania. He was showing me pictures and telling me about their culture. He knows my love for a juicy steak, and asked me, “Do you know what they eat? They live on red meat and milk from cows. They eat very little else in their diets, only the occasional vegetable shipped in. And they have the whitest teeth.”
    Maybe the researchers should go there and discover how great red meat is for the body: morning, noon and night. It’s ok with me if less people eat red meat. Maybe the prices will come down and there will be more for the rest of us.
    Thanks for writing about this subject, Mike. People need to do their homework, and watch out for hype.

  • Shawn B

    I always urge my students (I AM a scientist) to be careful when reading any study. Please keep several things in mind:
    1) Just because someone eats red meat and gets any form of cancer does NOT mean the consumption of meat caused the cancer. Correlation does NOT infer causation — that is an elementary statistics mistake.
    2) A study does not PROVE anything! A study can suggest a relationship between two or more variables, but unless the multiple variables are carefully controlled using a treatment group, assumptions dependent upon isolations cannot always be made with a high degree of accuracy.
    3) Studies done in rodents do not always transfer to humans. There are differences in physiology that confound perfect transfer.
    4) Observational (epidemiological) studies cannot isolate variables so strong correlations are not reliably found. This is a huge mistake often made by the media when reporting results of such a study. Again, correlation does not infer causation. Unless you isolate all study participants and closely monitor activities and intakes (you see the logistical problems here), there is much room for error.
    5) We are all the same but different. There is enough genetic variation in humans that we cannot 100% reliably make predictions concerning long-term health. We all know someone who smoked, drank, ate plenty of red meat, and lived more that 90 years (count my maternal grandfather among that group). We all know someone who exercised, ate “well”, and passed on at a relatively young age.

    I’ll leave you with something to ponder: Everyone who eats carrots will die. Is that a false statement? It is very true! I did not say WHEN they will die or WHAT will be the cause/causes of the demise, so this is a true statement as we are all mortal. Of course, I could also have stated that everyone who does NOT eat carrots will die and it would be equally true. You all can see how easy it is to misinterpret the findings of research…

    • Gary Lewis

      Really intetesting stuff Shaun, (I’ve been liaising with you, re: kidney stones), and reading some of your other discussions which I find really interesting, especially the point “correlation does not infer causation” – wish I’d known that a few times before!! The carrots thing, I certainly see the valid point you make. Your discussions are definately one to watch – I’m getting educated!! Gary.

    • Great comment Shaun. Thanks for that.

      I talk about some of these things here:

      https://legionathletics.com/best-workout-supplements/

  • George Schwartz

    I love most of your articles, Mike, and I greatly value your book—it has taken my fitness to a whole new level.

    Even if I don’t agree with your position that meat can be part of a healthy diet, it is my view that the environmental issues surrounding the consumption of animal products is at the forefront of why we should avoid them.

    The consumption of animal products is the main cause of global warming accounting for between 51% and 72% of greenhouse gas emissions, depending on the source cited. This is more than the emissions of all airplanes, cars and ships combined. Raising livestock also accounts for the number one reason for deforestation in the world, most worryingly in the Amazon forest. It also accounts for the most rampant use of water out of any industry. E.g. to make one burger requires the use of 660 gallons of water. Lastly, around 90% of grains (corn, soy and wheat) are destined to be animal feed.

    In my opinion, these are all issues to be considered when we choose between a plant-based meal or one that contains animal products. I would recommend the documentary Cowspiracy if you would like to learn more about this and, certainly, to do your own research into the matter as well.

    Thanks so much for everything, Mike! All the best.

    • Thanks George!

      I appreciate the support and respect your position/decision. I’ll check out the documentary but do keep in mind that many documentaries of that nature tend to lean toward propaganda because that’s what sells best.

    • Arturo Watts

      George, while I completely agree, and environmental sustainability in a planet with ever growing population is the reason I personally abstain from meat consumption, however I think you confused you contribution of livestock’s contribution to intros oxide and methane emissions with overall greenhouse gas emissions. The contribution of livestock to carbon emissions is about 7% and to overall greenhouse emissions, the figure rises to about 18 or 19%, which is still huge and indeed, a larger contributor than the international transportation sector. See World Bank report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” for more information.

  • estycki

    My doctor keeps asking me to eat more read meat, because my ferritin is always so low. I bought a HUGE chunk of beef from costco and it took me 6 months to finish it, but it was the only time my blood tests showed significant improvement.

    • Glad it showed improvement! Keep it up.

      LMK if you have any questions. I’m happy to help.

  • Carson

    So does this mean my Boars Head Oven Roasted turkey sandwich is too processed and no good as a regular lunch staple? It’s so convenient, delicious, and fits so nicely in my macros, I will be so sad to see it go….

    • I believe BH doesn’t use nitrates?

      Personally I wouldn’t be worried about a few ounces of nitrate-free deli meat each day if I were also eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet and exercising regularly.

  • Stu krasnow

    Hi mike,
    I’m a customer of yours and not a vegan. I do limit the intake of animal products. There is a new book out with latest research called ” The End Of Heart Disease.” Dr Furhman wrote it. It’s all inclusive and a must read for all.

    • Thanks for the comment Stu! I also limit my intake of animal products simply because a “healthy” diet is comprised mainly of plant-based carbs and fats.

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