Are Burgers Healthy? Why Red Meat is NOT Bad For You
The hamburger is on America's Most Wanted List.
That's the message spreading faster than Bieber fever after a study published by the Harvard School of Public Health linked red meat to higher rates of mortality.
The lead author of the study, An Pan, was quoted as saying,
"Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies."
On the surface the evidence seems overwhelming. The study tested more than 37,000 men and 83,000 women, and found that meat was linked with increases in cardiovascular mortality and cancer mortality.
But before you cancel your crusade to find the world's best burger (26 Beach is making a strong push for the title) or put your local butcher out of work, you might want to keep reading.
We already know that saturated fat isn't the killer it was made out to be in the 80s. There's plenty of research to support this theory (too much to link too, in fact), and a meta analysis of 21 studies that found no link between coronary heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease and saturated fat.
So what is the study not showing you?
A quick review of the methods and results sheds more light on the dubious accusations.
(note: This is not about organic vs. non-organic meats. Or grass-fed meat vs. corn or grain fed. This is just an outright attack on red meat)
The population studied was nurses. All nurses. This is not condemning the health profession, but nurses (and doctors) work some very difficult hours. They are not necessarily the model of health. Even if you disagree with that statement, nurses are not representative of the general population.
How did the researchers test the dangers of meat? Through a survey and questionnaire. This wasn't some deep and complex lab work.
As for the ability to demonstrate a cause and effect relationship between red meat and mortality? Those claims are impossible. Always remember Research 101: Correlation does not equal causation. Often, it's merely guilt by association.
What's more, a deeper look at the study shows some confounding variables that make it harder to believe that meat consumption is the real problem.
Nutrition expert Alan Aragon writes a monthly review (Born Approved) dedicated to analyzing published studies. What stood out to him? It wasn't the dangers of meat. Instead, it was this line from the researchers:
“In addition, a higher red meat intake was associated with a higher intake of total energy but lower intakes of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.”
One could just as easily argue that it was the lack of fruits...or vegetables...or whole grains...or all of them combined that contributed to the negative health assertions made by the researchers. Or at the very least, we know that the people who were eating more red meat were also consuming a poor diet that was low in high-quality micro-nutrition.
"This whole idea of pointing the finger at a single dietary culprit in the development of a multifactorial outcome is hilariously preposterous," adds Aragon. “Epidemiological data is observational and thus uncontrolled. It’s hypothesis-generating, and is incapable of demonstrating causation. There is no direct evidence that red meat is a special agent of disease."
The bottom line:
As always, what you eat is up to you. The argument isn’t about whether you should or shouldn’t eat meat–it’s about whether red meat is inherently dangerous. As a practical way to ensure your health, mix select lean cuts of red meat with fattier options if you are trying to prevent overeating (because fatty cuts are very caloric). Stay active, eat fruits and vegetables, consume protein from a variety of sources, sleep more, and enjoy your meat without guilt.