A recent long term study by the Harvard School of Public Health has my facebook and twitter pages buzzing all week long. The main outcome of the study was that consuming any amount or type of red meat can significantly increase your risk of premature death. I’ve heard opinions from both sides of the fence all week. Those who oppose eating red meat are celebrating and posting the study like mad and the meat-eaters out there are saying the study has some faults and doesn’t show a direct cause and effect. I fall in between both groups and it’s a big reason why I personally embrace a Mediterranean style diet.
I agree with the pro-meat-eaters in that the study may not show a direct cause and effect and on top of that there are many errors when individuals fill out food frequency questionnaires. Believe it from someone who has worked on research studies…it’s hard to get accurate food records unless the person is filling them out right in the moment. However, I wouldn’t dismiss the information either. I think it’s a great long term study and should be taken into consideration when dietary recommendations are being made. The way I look at it is we do know that saturated fats are linked to an increase in cholesterol, but more important to me is the fact that eating large amounts of animal protein is associated with inflammation in the body which is a key contributor to nearly every chronic disease. So it’s no surprise to me that those who eat red meat daily were found to be at greater risk of premature death.
A traditional Mediterranean diet uses red meat very sparingly, more like once or twice a month rather than daily or weekly. The reason? All meat was expensive and the regions where researchers found health benefits were mostly rural. Seafood and fish were eaten more often because it was local and inexpensive. Beef on the other hand was saved for special occasions. The other interesting piece of information is they would typically only eat 2 to 3 ounce portion sizes of meat and poultry because it was hard to come by and instead fill their plate with veggies, fruits and legumes.
While many may be on the fence about this study I think everyone can agree that increasing fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes is where we should be headed. I just think it’s really hard to argue that a plant-based diet, using any type of meat in smaller amounts, is the healthiest way to go. Do we really need more information that carrots, broccoli and beans are good for you?
Personally, I’m not that crazy about beef and I only eat it maybe 4 times a year. It’s not the dietitian in me, I was always that way and my poor father used to shudder when I’d pour copious amounts of ketchup or sour cream on my steak just to get through it. Sorry dad! With my kids, I’m far more excited to see them eat some black beans than hamburger meat.
If you love beef, my recommendation would be to take the main idea from this study to heart and find ways to decrease your intake especially if you are eating it on a daily basis. The second and most important part is to find ways to replace that missing red meat with plant-based foods (mainly veggies or legumes) you love. One thing I truly believe is you should enjoy all the food you eat!