But only if it’s processed and even then probably only if you’re an overweight, inactive smoker.
Quarterly Meat Bashing
It feels like a new study makes headlines every few months stating how the consumption of meat is killing us all. These “findings” are usually based on bad science, misinterpretation and unfair extrapolation of data or irresponsible reporting. It truly is no wonder that the vast majority of people are completely confused about the constituents of a healthy diet. The most recent example of the meat kills headlines are based on a European population observational study that was heavily reported on by various media outlets about a month ago – though I’m just now getting around to reading it.
In this study the authors report an increase in mortality by about 3% due to the consumption of large levels of processed meats. While there was still a healthy portion of sketchiness in the interpretation of data and ensuing journalism, I have to admit there were numerous encouraging factors present in this latest round of the attack on meat.
The first of which is that this study separated red meat from processed meat – an uncommon distinction. It’s important to consider whether the animal protein source is fresh steak or an oscar meyer weiner. There are typically all sorts of crap additives included with processed meat which contribute to the overall unhealthiness of certain meat (and other) products.
Secondly, I’ve been very impressed by reader comments on the various news sites online articles. The vast majority are examining the results with a critical eye instead of slinging whole grains.
The Not So Good
With that said, we’re not totally out of the woods. Media outlets still took their standard jabs, advising against the consumption of red meat due to increased levels of saturated fat, sodium, etc. This, in spite of the fact that the study clearly demonstrated (after adjusting for confounding factors) no correlation between red meat consumption and mortality.
Finally, much of the reporting leads with big statements like “However, those eating more than 160g of processed meat a day… were 44% more likely to die over a typical follow-up time of 12.7 years than those eating about 20g.” Only to follow this statement up after a half page advertisement with a statement backing this number down from 44% to 3% after adjusting for confounders like smoking, exercise and other lifestyle factors. I suppose this is how you sell papers though… sigh.
What are the takeaways here?
- In this study of nearly 500k people no correlation was demonstrated between early mortality and the consumption of fresh red meat.
- The picture isn’t 100% clear with processed meat, because it is extremely difficult to remove all confounding factors. There is a very clear correlation between unhealthy lifestyle and high consumption of processed meat. Meaning, most of the folks that consumed the largest quantities of processed meat spent the majority of their time smoking, eating hot dogs and other such slobbery instead of exercising and adding a veggie or two to their meals. Even after numerically factoring out these lifestyle choices, there may still be a small increase in mortality due to high consumption of processed meats. Interestingly enough, there was actually an increase in mortality demonstrated by the group that consumed no processed meats. Though for maximal health, you should ensure the majority of the meat you consume is unprocessed.
- You can’t always trust what you read or more specifically what gets reported. Make sure to both read the entire article and when possible, the referenced studies with a critical eye. Reading headlines is a quick path to misinformation.