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nikipedia's avatar

Will the most recent study showing that red meat is bad for your health influence your eating habits?

Asked by nikipedia (27454points) March 14th, 2012

A new study released by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health concludes that eating any red meat increases your risk of early mortality.

The researchers found that this was true even when they controlled for other lifestyle and dietary risk factors.

For more information, here is a summary from the New York Times.

Will this change your eating habits at all?

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52 Answers

zensky's avatar

There’s a new study every other day.


Keep_on_running's avatar

No, I love me some steak.

Kardamom's avatar

Ha Ha, no I’m a vegetarian. I know eating meat is bad for humans and not very good for animals either, if you catch my drift.

tom_g's avatar

@zensky – I agree that a single study shouldn’t drive public hysteria. However, I’m not sure that this goes against anything we happen to know about health and diet. I could be wrong. Have there been previous studies that showed that eating red meat is either neutral or good for health?

flutherother's avatar

No, I don’t eat a lot of red meat or processed meat.

janbb's avatar

I only eat it occasionally already.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Not at all, because there will be a new study next year that says eating anything other than carrotapplebanana smoothies will give you diarrhea, cataracts, cancer and AIDS.

I never pay attention to “studies” that tell me what to eat, since they all seem so damn biased. I eat what my body tells me to eat.

Blackberry's avatar

I already stopped eating so much red meat once I saw this study years ago, but I just can’t bring myself to stop eating it completely. I eat a lot of chicken and seafood now.

nikipedia's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate, you’re totally right. I heard that carrotapplebanana smoothie study was sponsored by Jamba Juice.

Aster's avatar

Yes, it makes me more determined than ever to cut way back on red meat and also makes the very thought of it slightly sickening. The doctor on the morning show said you can eat 2 or 3 , 3oz servings a week. 3 ounce?

KaiHallarn111's avatar

No, mainly because everything appears to be bad for you and I’m getting a little bit tired of all these health scares.

tom_g's avatar

I’m somewhat surprised by the reaction here. Science plods along doing its thing, and occasionally some newspaper will pick up an abstract and write an article about it. It seems this really hit a nerve here.

To those who are concerned about conflicting studies or feel that the public is getting jerked around – do you feel that science has nothing to learn about nutrition, or that it is impossible to do so? Or is it that you feel that nutrition is a particularly corrupt area of science? I’m getting a “not another global climate change study” feeling from some here.

Additionally, do you feel that up until now red meat consumption has been considered healthy – or neutral at least? Is there something about this study that has flipped what we think we know about nutrition on its head?

Sunny2's avatar

As a result of the article, I got a great yearning for a steak, which I hadn’t had in over 4 months.
It was delicious. It’s a matter of quality of life, not quantity. I’ve had sufficient quantity to really appreciate quality. My doctor is “watching” my sugar intake. Fortunately, it was lower than last check, but I realized that if asked to cut down more, I would refuse. I keep my weight reasonable and take the meds I’m required to, but that’s it. I do not care if I live longer. (yes, I’m that OLD.) Meanwhile medical studies will come and go without me giving a damn.

gailcalled's avatar

This is old news. There are no studies that say that eating meat is good for you.

I stopped all animal protein five years ago and then dropped most dairy last year. It was easy.

I and my GI tract feel much better and my quality of life is very good.

nikipedia's avatar

@gailcalled, not exactly old news—this study was published on Monday. Although, old in a sense: they have been collecting data continuously for, in some cases, 28 years!

Rarebear's avatar

There are several flaws in the study. Although they say they controlled for obesity and smoking, it’s a statistical regression analysis which always has problems. Also, it’s a retrospective questionnaire. It’s interesting, but certainly not conclusive enough to set the cows free.

nikipedia's avatar

@Rarebear, on a surface level I would disagree with your statement that it’s a “regression analysis” because the primary conclusions were drawn using a hazard ratio. However, perhaps you are aware that a hazard ratio (like all parametric statistics—ANOVA, ANCOVA, MANOVA, etc.) is based on the general linear model, which does rely on regressions. I do not think the use of a regression in any way undermines the findings, or else we should toss out every single study ever performed using parametric statistics.

For what it’s worth, I also am not convinced that the use of a retrospective questionnaire undermines the findings, either. The implication of that argument is that eating meat doesn’t cause early mortality, it’s just that thinking you ate meat does.

Aethelflaed's avatar

No. When I don’t eat meat, I feel horrible. I’d rather have a slightly shorter life that’s happy than live to be 100 but spend most of my days miserable.

Rarebear's avatar

@nikipedia I stand corrected, thanks. You’re right.

My original point stands, though. As a physician I am always wary of making sweeping clinical recommendations based upon retrospective studies, especially if they’re based upon patient recall.

Rarebear's avatar

I like the MIchael Pollan approach. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Sunny2's avatar

We human are omnivores. We can eat meat or not. It’s a choice, whatever your reasoning.

funkdaddy's avatar

I thought it was fairly convincing although I wish they’d go ahead and extend the mortality numbers out a bit so they’d be in terms I could wrap my head around more easily. It looks like Hazard Ratio is the chance someone would die during the study period, but what does that mean in practical terms? Maybe something like life expectancy would tie it all together? Maybe I’m just slow.

I also wonder like @Rarebear how accurate backing out certain portions can really be. Those who eat lots of red meat probably fall into a few groups beyond what was outlined in the study. Red meat is a big part of certain lifestyles which go beyond the factors they backed out.

To me, the degree they found red meat to contribute was most convincing, but again I’m having trouble with the “units” here.

Will I give up red meat because of it? No. I’ve tried a lot of various additions and subtractions from my diet, what I have now seems to make me feel the best. If that changes I’ll try something different. I think everyone should do the same and do what works for them.

I will however try to find some alternatives to the bacon/salami I generally use in sandwiches and tacos though. It’s just there for a little salty variety and if there’s something easier on my system that can serve the same purpose, all the better.

I also tried to dig a bit to find why processed meats were more damaging. My thought was they’d have a higher fat content but that doesn’t seem to be what the study found…

Unprocessed and processed meats contain similar amounts of saturated fat and heme iron; however, other constituents in processed meat, particularly sodium and nitrites, might explain the additional harm of processed meats.

The high sodium content may increase CVD risk through its effect on blood pressure. Nitrites and nitrates are frequently used in the preservation of processed meats, and blood nitrite concentrations have been related to endothelial dysfunction and impaired insulin response in adults.

I think we also tend to season our red meats more than others, so I wonder how much of the effect seen is actually the red meat and how much is just how we like it prepared? Processed meat generally have the “flavor” already in. It might be interesting although I have no idea how you’d study it directly.

Rarebear's avatar

for the record I was wrr wrr wrr I was wrr wrr wrr wrr. Damn. Can’t say it.

nikipedia's avatar

@Rarebear, you were…wrestling when you wrote that? You were wryly wrapping presents? Wrathfully wrecking things with wrenches? Wrinkling your brow?

HungryGuy's avatar

No. Because I hardly eat red meat as it is. I’m not e vegan, but I usually have meat about once a week when I stop for KFC or a sub on my way home from work Friday night.

janbb's avatar

@Rarebear After all you are a doctor, how could you be? :-)

SpatzieLover's avatar

Nope. I don’t eat the beef most Americans eat. I eat only grass-fed beef.

That study doesn’t talk about grass-fed beef at all.

“If you eat a typical amount of beef per year…which in the United States is about 67 pounds, switching to grass-fed beef will save you 16,642 calories a year.”


Berserker's avatar

Nah. With these kind of things popping up constantly, I don’t even know what to believe anymore. I mean, don’t hotdogs contain rubber boot parts and someone’s teeth? I don’t know what’s in anything or what is good or not because of why, but since being able to live highly rests on eating…not that I would eat just anything…I can’t worry about all this stuff, except for signals that my body might give me. I guess if it takes time acting up, well then guess I’m fucked lol. Not that I eat red meat often. I love it, but I’m no cook, so I don’t get to have it often.

Charles's avatar

Yes, it will influence me to eat more meat because demand will go down and meat will be cheaper.

Berserker's avatar

@Charles Good observation…

serenade's avatar

Like @SpatzieLover suggests, my question is whether the study accounts for differences between factory farmed and pastured/organic red meat. Is red meat inherently bad, or is it bad because cows are fed GMO corn, chicken manure, and aspartame and because the products are mixed with trimmings that have been gassed with ammonia and the final product perhaps gassed with carbon monoxide to keep them looking fresh on the shelf, or loaded with sodium to similar ends?

I’m not a huge beef fan, because I’ve grown averse to the stink that a fast food burger (for example) leaves on your mouth and hands when your done, but the organic beef I can get through my CSA tastes orders of magnitude cleaner than anything you can get in a store. I can’t speak to the health effects, but neither, I suppose, can this study.

funkdaddy's avatar

@serenade – and on top of that, what if the chicken didn’t eat right? ~

ninjacolin's avatar

it should.

Blackberry's avatar

Doesn’t meat have a lot of protein, too? What if you’re a young, very physically active person that needs a lot of food to replenish their bulging muscles lol?

nikipedia's avatar

@Blackberry, the study found that substituting even 1 serving a day of other sources of protein was associated with a significantly lower early mortality risk.

Most Americans eat about twice as much protein as they need.

Rarebear's avatar

Jeez guys, if God didn’t intend for us to eat cows, why did he call them “meat”?

Blackberry's avatar

@nikipedia Ah, very enlightening, thanks :)

judochop's avatar

makes sense to me. we have flat teeth and our stomachs don’t digest meat very well. either way….ribs and steak and pork chops, fuck yeah!

OpryLeigh's avatar

I agree with @zensky and if I worried about every study that came out I wouldn’t do/eat/drink etc anything for fear that I would die early! As it happens, I don’t think I eat enough red meat to worry too much.

Edit: I shpould say that, whilst I don’t tend to worry about it, I do take what these studies say on board but they don’t make me automatically give something up. I’m in the “everything in moderation” camp.

Paradox25's avatar

There were many studies done which have shown that red meat is actually good for your health too. There were studies done which have shown that it is carbs that are bad for your health. The majority of my family (outside of premature circumstances) have lived well into their 90’s while eating alot of red meat. This study (along with other studies which are similar with their anti-red meat propaganda) may have meaning to those who want to believe the info, but I still see no hard concrete proof that consuming red meat is unhealthy.

nikipedia's avatar

@Paradox25, A 28-year long study performed by 8 public health experts with the goal of studying public health using well-established statistically analyses is “propaganda” and “no hard concrete proof”?

SpatzieLover's avatar

I seem to recall when eggs were the demon food.

tom_g's avatar

@Paradox25: “There were many studies done which have shown that red meat is actually good for your health too.”

Do you have any studies to refer to?

Jude's avatar

I rarely eat it anymore. In fact, I can’t remember the last time that I ate read meat.

laureth's avatar

The study seems to have had some serious flaws.

nikipedia's avatar

@laureth, she’s certainly entitled to her opinion, but I don’t share it at all. The survey instrument they used is well-validated within the field. And as I pointed out above, if the methodology was inaccurate for the reasons she describes, the interpretation of the data would be that thinking you ate red meat increases your risk of early mortality.

This woman seems to have a pretty big chip on her shoulder. These paragraphs in particular:

I’m convinced that this study, embarrassment that it is, was not written to gain respect from people who would read the full text, calculator in hand, as part of their day job. It wasn’t written for other scientists, doctors or, actually, for anyone like the health professionals who were actually in the study.

It was written for the sake of headlines. It was hand-crafted for newspapers, which we count on to deliver at least a Reader’s Digest version of the truth.

The study was written by scientists, reviewed by scientists, and published by scientists. As a scientist, I did read the full text of the study and I do not see any errors in their design that undermine their interpretations.

And again, as I pointed out above, these scientist worked on this study for 28 years. That’s a long time to wait to get some facebook shares.

mattbrowne's avatar

Oh. Well, I asked my question before I found yours.

Yes, we should be open to these findings, but there’s no need to panic. People who eat rare beef every second day might reconsider.

nikipedia's avatar

@mattbrowne, I guess my opinion on the matter is pretty apparent by now. It just seems to me like the reasons not to eat meat are overwhelming—ethical, environmental, and medical.

gailcalled's avatar

The most recent studies confirm what many have believed for decades.

See The China Study for one example.

I haven’t eaten meat or most dairy products for years. And I find I am almost ready to skip chicken and fish, which I eat rarely.

funkdaddy's avatar

I have a lot of respect for the people here, but I think it’s common to think that people that hold a popular opinion just haven’t thought it through, they’re going with the crowd.

An example that comes to mind is the folks that choose to live without a car. It can be hard to see why anyone would ever need to live differently.

I like meat the way some people like chocolate, or cookies, or fresh fruit. If I had to list my 10 favorite foods, 5 or 6 of those would have meat as a primary component. I know this isn’t necessarily the “in” thing to say, but it’s true and something I would have to consider before ever thinking about being a vegetarian.

I’ve also raised animals for food. I understand where the meat comes from and what goes into it. If it wasn’t available for purchase any longer I’d probably raise animals (but probably not cows).

So I’m always open to information about healthier options, and try to buy meat that is more humane and less detrimental to the environment even when the costs are higher. But I’d rather keep exploring and pushing those options rather than give up meat all together.

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it, it’s just that I’ve made a different choice after working it through.

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