Cutting red meat out of the diet: Part 2

Recent studies from the Harvard School of Public Health say that eating red meat may shorten a person’s lifespan. It says that cutting back on red meat by one serving a day could lower the risk of dying. We asked our Zintro experts to dig into the study and explain what elements in the study are most important to pay attention to.

Megan Ware, a registered dietician, says that it’s no surprise that a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that increased red meat consumption is associated with a higher mortality rate. “There have been numerous previous studies linking higher intakes of red meat with an increased risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and diabetes, in which this study is also in agreement. The new research showed an even higher risk of death with intake of processed red meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and salami,” notes Ware.

Ware points out that it is important to consider that the Harvard study participants who ate more red meat were also more likely to be overweight, smoke, drink alcohol, and less likely to be physically active. These men and women were shown to have an overall higher caloric intake and to consume less whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and fish. “Researchers that conducted the study have been criticized as confusing correlation with causation, and that the study only demonstrates that those participants who followed an overall unhealthy lifestyle were more likely to have a shorter lifespan,” Ware summarizes.

Red meat consumption in the US has been decreasing for the past 20 years, with the U.S beef cattle herd the smallest it’s been since the 1950s. The decrease in consumption has been linked to growing health concerns among consumers, along with droughts and other factors. Ware shares some facts:

  • Most red meats are generally higher in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol than leaner proteins such as nuts, fish, chicken, turkey, low fat dairy products, and beans.
  • The results of this study simply give more testimony that substituting leaner proteins for higher fat meats when possible is beneficial for overall health.
  • However, that is not to say that red meats cannot also be considered lean, and integrated into a healthy diet when served in appropriate 3 oz portions.
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests looking for meat cuts that include the words loin or round, trimming off the visible fat before cooking, and choosing ground meats labeled as 95% lean.
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends limiting red meat intake to 18 ounces per week for optimal health and using low fat cooking methods such as grilling, baking, stewing, and braising.

Ray Blumenfeld, a publisher of the magazine Canadian Meat Business, says that many of its U.S. and Canadian industry representatives were quick to refute the study’s claims, saying that the study is flawed and the results have little significance to meat eaters in North America. “We as consumers eat red meat products that are within national and international guidelines and are based on a large and significant body of scientific evidence,” he says. “Red meat continues to be part of a balanced diet and nutrition decisions should be based on the total body of evidence, not on single studies that include weak and inconsistent evidence.”

Blumenfeld states that industry experts say the Harvard study was an observational study, meaning it could not be used to determine cause and effect. “The American Meat Institute Foundation said the study ‘tries to predict the future risk of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease by relying on notoriously unreliable self-reporting about what was eaten and obtuse methods to apply statistical analysis to the data.’”

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