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May 14, 2013 posted by

Does Red Meat Shorten Your Life Span?

Does Red Meat Shorten Your Life Span?

Today I’ll shed some rationale on the wackiness that masquerades as news. It’s been a while since I’m turned a critical eye on the wires. Because of the site transition I’ve been holding on to stories since last year. Today we begin with one of Yahoo’s “most important health headlines of the year,” titled “Red Meat Shortens Life Span”.

We’ve heard many times before that too much red meat is bad for us, but this study of more than 100,000 people still got the nation’s attention. For the first time, researchers estimated the effect of red meat on a person’s lifespan—and the news wasn’t good.

On average, each additional serving of saturated fat-filled red meat was associated with a 13% higher risk of dying during the 28-year study. Processed meat products such as hot dogs, bacon, and salami were especially hazardous. The antidote? Eating more fish, poultry, whole grains, and low-fat dairy may lower your risk of dying prematurely, the study found.

So just how important is this, really? It would be fine information if it didn’t come under the headline “red meat shortens life span,” because that’s a lie. As the study points out, if one were to look at it, it’s a hypothesis with far too many variables to make a conclusion. Cutting red meat out of your diet will have very little affect on your life unless you also change other habits along with it.

Headlines like this are bothersome because they make broad-spectrum leaps that end up wasting what otherwise could be good information. This is particularly sad because we would be better off eating less red meat. But instead of presenting something sensible, we get an alarmist headline likely to be ignored because it’s too clean and compartmentalized to actually be true.

Health-wise, red meat isn’t too bad. In fact, should you be stranded in the wild it’s the only single food that you can survive on. Yep, that’s right. Under certain circumstances fatty red meat is the ultimate superfood because it has all the protein, fats, and vitamins and minerals we need to exist.

is this your demographic?

In the real world, unless you trap beaver for a living, you probably don’t need red meat. In context of the cornucopia of a super market, red meat—with it’s high saturated fat content and dense caloric load—begins to lose its luster. In fact, for most of us it’s a fairly poor choice because all its benefits, protein, fats, and vitamins exist in foods healthier (if less well-rounded). Lean meats, (that incidentally can kill you if they’re all you eat due to lack of fat—file under need-to-know trapper info), are better for finding pure protein. Nuts, seeds, fish and other plant sources are superior choices for fats. Fruits and veggies contain far more vitamins and minerals per calorie. Therefore, in the modern world, red meat falls from superfood to something that should be an indulgence.

The verdict here is that it doesn’t take a study to show that many who make red meat a staple also favor (far more) dangerous things, like soda, beer, fried foods and all-you-can-eat buffets. Red meat has become a cultural icon for overindulgent eating, and it’s not exactly veiled. In fact, some of the country’s prime steak houses, under the guise that the meat is all that matters, pride themselves on serving poor quality side dishes. We’d be a lot better off it they’d stick with their trapper roots and dispense with the accouterments altogether.

Hence, the lesson we might have learned is lost. A more measured approach, as opposed to a sensationalist headline, could actually affect some meaningful change. Instead we’re simply prompting a few people to think they’re on the right track when they switch from burgers to wings during Happy Hour.

1 Comment

  • Kristin Piljay what about wild game like elk, buffalo, moose, venison, ostrich? How does that fit into the red meat aversion? I think they are quite different than the usual red meat of cow, pork, etc. Although now buffalo, ostrich and elk are often ranched rather than being wild (moose, of course, isn’t). But still it is very lean. What I do is limit red meat and when I do eat it, I eat organic beef, or the wild game listed above (although now I don’t have access to moose unfortunately). It’s a once or twice a week thing, along with a healthy diet and exercise. So yeah, I don’t think it shortens my lifespan, but like you said the “typical” person eating a lot of red meat often eat a lot of junk food along with it.
    3 hours ago · Like

    Steve Edwards That’s a different subject, really, but a good one. Wild meat isn’t just leaner, it has different micronutrient profile. The subject has been covered up as much as possible by the meat industry but the more studies that come through the more we’re seeing stark nutritional differences. Good article on the meat industry in the latest Harpers.

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