The results of a major epidemiological study on the health effects of red meat consumption were published online yesterday by the highly regarded Archives of Internal Medicine. I heard about the study on NPR, but it made headlines all over the place.
The study, which looked at the eating habits of 120,000+ health care professionals in the US over decades, found that “a higher intake of red meat was associated with a significantly elevated risk of total [mortality], CVD [cardiovascular disease mortality], and cancer mortality, and this association was observed for unprocessed and processed red meat, with a relatively great risk for processed red meat. Substitution of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains for red meat was associated with a significantly lower risk of mortality.” In other words, the more red meat you eat, the sooner you die. Seriously, that’s the takeaway lesson!
In the NPR piece and elsewhere, the study’s senior author has a somewhat less dire message: “A moderate consumption [of unprocessed red meat], for example one serving every other day, I think is fine.” On the other hand, processed red meats— like bacon and hot dogs—should be consumed rarely, if at all.
In an editorial that was published alongside the article, Dr. Dean Ornish summarizes what we know about dietary habits and health outcomes and lays out the following (which is a bit lengthier than Michael Pollan’s similar but pithier “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”)
There is an emerging consensus among most nutrition experts about what constitutes a healthy way of eating:
- little or no red meat;
- high in “good carbs” (including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and soy products in their natural forms);
- low in “bad carbs” (simple and refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and white flour);
- high in “good fats” (-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, flax oil, and plankton-based oils);
- low in “bad fats” (trans fats, saturated fats, and hydrogenated fats);
- more quality, less quantity (smaller portions of good foods are more satisfying than larger portions of junk foods, especially if you pay attention to what you are eating).
In addition to their health benefits, the food choices we make each day affect other important areas as well. What is personally sustainable is globally sustainable. What is good for you is good for our planet.