With red meat and fat, context is everything
Hi, Everyone,The idea that red meat and saturated fat are bad for us is deeply entrenched in the conventional medical paradigm and, thus, the mainstream media.But study after study over the past two decades have contradicted this belief, and now we have two more to add to this growing body of evidence. The first is a large new study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It examined the intake of both fresh and processed red meat among almost 135,000 participants from 21 different countries. The study found no association between fresh red meat and the risk of early death, heart disease, cancer, or stroke. (They did find a small association between processed red meat and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death—more on that below.)One strength of this study is that the researchers did a good job of matching the baseline characteristics (e.g., sex, age, body mass index, and behaviors like smoking and drinking) of the group that ate more red meat with the group that ate less red meat. This makes a more “apples to apples” comparison possible. The second study was a meta-analysis of 59 systemic reviews published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism examining the association between dietary fat intake and a variety of health outcomes. The researchers found “no association of total fat, monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), and saturated fatty acid (SFA) with risk of chronic diseases.”I’m happy to see that many newer studies that look at the relationship between certain foods and health outcomes have at least taken some steps to ensure more accurate results. I think this is a major reason why most recent studies have failed to find any connection between red meat and saturated fat and chronic diseases. But we could still do better. We don’t eat foods in isolation—we eat them along with other foods in an overall diet pattern. When we eat red meat in the context of a diet high in processed and refined foods, it will not have the same effects as if we eat it in the context of a whole-foods diet. In other words, when it comes to red meat and saturated fat, context is everything. For example:Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) have been shown to increase cancer risk. But cruciferous veggies and spices reduce the formation of HCAs, and cooking meat at lower temperatures (stewing, low-temperature roasting, etc.) lowers them, too.Some studies have linked increased consumption of heme iron from red meat to cancer. But other studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables attenuates the oxidative capacity of heme iron and reduces the absorption of iron in the gut. In all studies of the relationship between red meat and cancer that controlled for vegetables, a greater increase was seen in people not consuming vegetables. Vegetable consumption seems to confer a protective effect. Red meats are associated with a variety of cancers, but consumption of fruits and veggies is associated with protection against just as many and is most protective in cohorts at the highest risk. Most studies, even the more recent ones, including the two I linked to above, do not take this into account. And that’s why I’m still somewhat suspicious when I see findings suggesting that processed meats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or other bad outcomes—although I’m definitely open to the possibility that they do. There are just too many potential confounding factors to adequately control for all of them. So, my recommendation remains the same: eat a nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet with a broad variety of both animal and plant foods. This is what traditional wisdom, modern research, and clinical experience suggest is the best approach for the majority of people. In health,ChrisP.S. If you’re interested in these topics, and want to do a super deep dive, check out the curated resource page we put together for my appearances on The Joe Rogan Experience, which were focused on the role of meat in the diet.
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