Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths and other fairytales

Doesn’t the photo of that beef look amazing? I just had to say that before I started. I’d love a slice of that.

You have most probably seen this study that just came out showing that eating red meat is going to kill you, eventually. Having read the numerous alarmist articles published on the topic, I thought it is my duty to say something, since so many media outlets have started going crazy for this piece of news. Here’s the link to the article by The Telegraph.

I don’t know how this rubbish is even considered a study. What the researchers did was survey 100,000 people over a period of 28 years, asking them every 4 years about their diet and lifestyle. Asking them? So, the study wasn’t a double blind, laboratory based study? Already, I’m skeptical. Many issues are known to happen with survey studies. Namely, people lie in surveys. They do! I know I have…

OK, but putting that aside. Let’s look at this line from the Telegraph:

Small quantities of processed meat such as bacon, sausages or salami can increase the likelihood of dying early by a fifth, researchers from Harvard School of Medicine found. Eating steak increases the risk of early death by 12%.

 Apart from people on a low-carb diet, I don’t know anyone who eats bacon without pressing it against sugar-laden barbecue sauce slathered on soft slices of bread. Sausages? Again, wrapped in bread. Salami? That comes on top of a pizza, right? So, these people are eating JUNK FOOD. Why is it that the study decided it was the meat that caused “early death”? Why wasn’t it the insulin-spiking bread, vegetable oils, and the ton of soft drinks/sodas/beer that the person likely consumed alongside that pizza? That is a major flaw of such observational science. We see what we choose to see. You can’t infer cause and effect without experimentation. To illustrate what I’m trying to say, I got the following off the Simpsons, the font of all wisdom (source):

After a single bear wandering into town has drawn an over-reaction from the residents of Springfield, Homer stands outside his house and muses, “Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is working like a charm!”

Lisa sees through his reasoning: “That’s specious reasoning, dad.” Homer, misunderstanding the word “specious”, thanks her for the compliment.

Optimistically, she tries to explain the error in his argument: “By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.” Homer is confused: “Hmm; how does it work?” Lisa: “It doesn’t work; it’s just a stupid rock!” Homer: “Uh-huh.” Lisa: “… but I don’t see any tigers around, do you?”
Homer, after a moment’s thought: “Lisa, I want to buy your rock…” 

So, maybe, it was the fact that those people breathed oxygen chronically that caused their death. Or maybe because they were generally unhealthy. The article continues:

Scientists added that people who eat a diet high in red meat were also likely to be generally unhealthier because they were more likely to smoke, be overweight and not exercise.

Okay. So, here we have a bit more of a complete picture. Overweight, nicotine-addicted sedentary people who eat junk food die sooner rather than later. Maybe that should have been the real headline. But then again, if I had read that headline, I would have probably thought, “No shit Sherlock. 28 years of surveys and that’s all you can tell me?” Don’t we all ALREADY KNOW that smokers binging on pizza and Ben & Jerry’s are going to have an early death? Do we really need a study to tell us that?
What really got me excited about this study is that it showed a link between low cholesterol and increased risk of early death. Didn’t we believe the opposite to be true? So, we should eat less cholesterol, even though cholesterol seems to protect us from an early death? Huhh? (That said, I am a firm believer in a) the protective effects of cholesterol, and b) know that dietary cholesterol doesn’t translate to serum cholesterol).
I could go further in-depth about this, but, luckily, someone else has done that for me. Read Zoe Harcomb’s blog post and understand how bad the science really is. If I were you, I would think twice about switching my red meat for whole grains.



  • All those studies are so poorly designed. The sad thing is that people believe in them. Even worse, they don’t bother reading the studies but just the newspaper heading. Apparently a good study comparing clean traditional diets is on its way (Robb Wolf has mentioned it). Fingers crossed.

  • Great summary! I’ve just discovered your blog and really enjoying reading it. I’m also going through a middle-eastern ‘phase’ with my cooking at the moment so am also busy raiding your food-blog links! Thanks!

  • This is not something new to me; you did a good job by taking an interesting approach that you mentioned some of the scientific research does not even make sense, such as low cholesterol will increase risk of early death. I will not change my eating habit because the media released some information that red meat leads to early death. There are too many rules and news about eating habits. If I believe in all of the news, I would probably be starved to death. I tend to eat chicken and seafood more often than red meat because I think red meat has more fat in it and I am on a strict diet now.

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