Is ALL red meat bad for you?

Earlier this week, the LA Times published an article called “All Red meat is risky” based on a new study released by the Harvard School of Public Health that found increased risk of premature death with increased red meat consumption.  Some notable conclusions included that one 3 oz. serving of red meat per day was associated with 13% increased chance of premature death and change that to processed meat it jumps up to 20% increased chance of premature death. 

Source: LA Times

The article had stated that eating any kind of red meat in any amount was bad for you.  Now before you go and give up red meat completely, I wanted to share a few key points/thoughts I had after reading the published study.  I hope they help put things into perspective and help you make more realistic decisions.

  1. Dietary intake over the 20 years of the study was assessed using a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ).  While FFQ’s are the best dietary assessment tool we have aside from controlled feeding studies, they still are inherently flawed. They ask participants to retroactively remember what they eat, make estimates and guesses, and in many cases over simplify ones diet so it’s important to keep this in mind when making drastic changes and conclusions based on studies using FFQs.
  2. While the study did separate out unprocessed red meat from processed red meat, it does not separate out organic from non-organic or grass-fed red meat, and also the various types of leaner cuts of red meat from fattier forms.
  3. The study also found that replacing 1 serving of total red meat with 1 serving of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, or whole grains daily was associated with a lower risk of total mortality: 7% for fish, 14% for poultry, 19% for nuts, 10% for legumes, 10% for low-fat dairy products, and 14% for whole grains.  This shows that by including other things in your diet and substituting some of your servings of red meat for healthier alternatives can help reduce the risk associated with red meat consumption.

In addition, about a month ago, a study from Japan with more than 51,000 men and women over 16 years found no connection between moderate meat consumption up to 3 ounces a day and premature death and another study from the Havard School of Public Health on red meat also found no connection between red meat consumption and heart disease and diabetes, though it did find an association with processed red meat consumption and heart disease and diabetes.

I also found the absolute risks of red meat consumption from the latest study on Harvard’s blog and it puts things into better perspective:


Deaths per 1,000 people per year

1 serving unprocessed meat a week

2 servings unprocessed meat a day

Women

7.0

8.5

3 servings unprocessed meat a week

2 servings unprocessed meat a day

Men

12.3

13.0

Source: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/study-urges-moderation-in-red-meat-intake-201203144490

The bottom line is that if you do eat red meat, processed red meat should be avoided or greatly limited in our diet (things like hot dogs, bacon, fast food hamburgers, pepperoni, etc.) and that unprocessed red meat should be eaten in moderation (1-3 times a week).

In addition, I find it interesting that the study in Japan found no connection between red meat consumption and premature death.  From my experience visiting Japan, I think there are three reasons that may be the case.

1. Japanese don’t eat very much red meat in general and have a diet high in fish compared to Americans.

2. Their red meat is much more likely to be organic and grass-fed than most meat Americans eat.

3. When they do eat red meat, the serving is generally less than 3 ounces and is prepared as thin slices either boiled or lightly seared.

I think more research is needed to make firm conclusions about whether or not grass-fed red meat is in fact much healthier and what amounts and cooking methods minimize risk, but based off ecological studies and comparisons, it may be true that what we feed our cows in America has an effect on how red meat affects our health, in addition to how much processed meats Americans tend to eat.

So when you do eat red meat, try to choose more unprocessed red meats and try to consume leaner cuts.  Below is a few of the extra lean cuts for you to choose from.

Extra Lean Cuts of Beef:

  • Eye of round roast or steak
  • Sirloin tip side steak
  • Top round roast and steak
  • Bottom round roast and steak
  • Top sirloin steak

3 Comments

Filed under Nutrition in the News, Recommendations

3 responses to “Is ALL red meat bad for you?

  1. I finally signed up to follow your awesome blog. Go girl!

  2. I’m so glad you actually read the study. I hate the way journalists like to sensationalize dietary studies. Also, nice blog!

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