Red Meat Debate

October 2nd, 2019

Today, the New York Times published an article, “Eat less red meat, scientists said.  Now some believe that was bad advice”  The article, which cites a meta-analysis (compiling and interpretation) of other studies published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, mainly states that red meat does not cause a significant increase in heart disease and cancer as once thought.

This does not make logical sense.  We know ingestion of red meat, which is naturally high in saturated fats, increases LDL (“bad” type cholesterol) which in turn raises the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. In addition, meats are very calorie dense when compared to vegetables.  So even eating the typical four or more servings that most Americans eat every week is likely to be too much.  We cannot deny that there is an obesity epidemic in the US right now.  Over 1 in 3 people have a BMI over 30 (clinically obese) and the incidence of childhood obesity is growing.  We all know that obesity leads to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all three of which contribute to a much higher risk of heart disease.  Given this setting, it is inconceivable that a medical journal with intentions of promoting health and wellness would consider putting out misinformation that could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of millions.

The decision to adopt a healthy lifestyle is never easy and involves a ton of education, determination and commitment.  The article published in the Annals will reduce the credibility of decades of obesity research and recommendations of the medical field.  I fear this will lead to a mistrust of tried and true diets such as the Mediterranean diet, which can reduce both heart disease and diabetes.

How should you eat in response to these findings?  If you choose to eat red meat, moderation is the still key.  Choose leaner cuts of meat with less white “marbling” which is fat.  The recommended serving is a piece of meat no larger than a deck of cards or palm of your hand per meal.  If you aren’t eating meat, I wouldn’t encourage you to start.  The study didn’t find that there was anything wrong with a plant-based diet.  I would still avoid concentrated sweets, sugary beverages, overly processed foods where the nutrition labels read like a list of chemicals, and refined carbohydrates.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as faro and oats, and seeds such as quinoa should still make up most of your diet.

We all must decide for ourselves what foods are good for us.  Think about how you feel after eating certain foods.  Ask yourself, “do I feel sluggish, tired or energetic and alive?”.  Are you gaining weight from eating too much?  Maybe cutting out the meat will help, I encourage you to make the decision for yourself and trust your judgement.  If you are not sure, have your cholesterol checked and have a conversation with your doctor.