Is meat bad for you? No, but junk science and the clueless media are.

Posted: September 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

I imagine some of you have heard about the new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine claiming that low-carb, meat-based diets raise the risk of heart attacks, other cardiovascular events and death. With headlines in the media like “Low carb, high meat diet has high risks” and “Low-carb diets might be deadly“, you might be (understandably) concerned.

Well, as they say in NYC, “fuggedah-bout-it.”

As many preposterous and poorly designed studies as I read (and let me tell you, I read a lot of them), I haven’t lost the ability to be shocked by a particularly bad one. I know the researchers who publish them aren’t stupid. And in general, I think their motivations are good. But it is truly astonishing to see how easily highly trained scientists can completely abandon reason and critical thinking.

And don’t get me started on the mainstream media. They’re hopeless. Do they even read the junk that comes across their desk before regurgitating it as a sensationalized and vapid news story? I know that news outlets have science reporters on staff. Where do they find these people? I could explain this study to a ten-year old in simple language, and they’d understand right away how ridiculous and worthless it is.

Maybe these researchers and reporters need to eat more meat and fat so their brains work better. Because stuff like this is pretty embarrassing for them.

When I saw this study, I knew I’d have to write about it. After all, a low-ish carb, meat-based diet is exactly what I advocate for optimal health. Fortunately, several of my esteemed blogger colleagues have already dissected, dismantled and otherwise disposed of this piece of scientific garbage. Rather than re-create the wheel, I’m simply going to link to their articles and provide a brief summary of the key points here.

The study claimed that a plant-based, low-carb diet (which we’ll call the Vegetable group) is associated with a lower risk of mortality and disease, while an animal-product based low-carb diet (which we’ll call the Animal group) is associated with an increased risk of mortality and disease.

Does the study support those claims? Hardly. Here’s why:

The so-called low-carb diet in the study wasn’t remotely low-carb. The participants got between 37% – 60% of calories from carbohydrates, which is what most low-carb experts would call, um, “high-carb.”
People in the Animal group were more likely to smoke and be overweight than the Vegetable group. Smoking and overweight are risk factors for heart disease. This alone could explain the results, but it also suggests that the Vegetable group may have been more health conscious in other ways (like exercise, stress management, etc.) that were not accounted for in the study. This, of course, is the problem with attempting to draw conclusions from epidemiological research – as we’ve discussed several times here before.
The Vegetable group didn’t exactly eat a vegetable-based diet. They got almost 30% of calories from animal products (vs. 45% from the Animal group).
When you examine the data in the study closely, differences in death rates were unrelated to animal product consumption. That means something else (not eating meat) described the differences seen in the study.
Epidemiological (observational) studies about meat intake are notoriously inaccurate, because people tend to lie (or forget) how much meat they actually eat. Since this study was based on nurses and doctors, who firmly believe the “meat is bad for you” hype, and are invested in the medical establishment, the participants may have been more likely to under-report their meat intake.
Of course Dean Ornish has jumped on the bandwagon claiming this study vindicates his completely unscientific claims that a plant-based diet is healthier than a meat-based diet. It does nothing of the sort, as you’ll see when you read the following articles. (I’ve lost all respect for the Dean Ornish’s integrity. I think his heart is in the right place, but he so clearly believes eating meat is bad and wrong that he entirely ignores any evidence that conflicts with his belief, and eagerly distorts any evidence that vaguely appears to support his belief.)


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