Robb Wolf Weighs In
Red Meat Scare
There I was, minding my own business. Just getting my talk ready for PaleoFx, washing clothes and chasing Keystone around the house on my mobility breaks. Then…the Meatpocalypse began. It started benignly enough. A few folks posted links to Facebook and twitter about a new study claiming “RED meat will kill you. DEAD.”
“Ah, this will blow over.” I thought.
But the terror grew. Bacon panics broke out in the civilized nations that consume this Nectar of the Swine. People lost the ability to think for themselves! Would the sun come up tomorrow? Bet your bottom dollar!…oh, wait. I was drifting into a coma, tired of the fight…tired of doing this…ALL…OVER…AGAIN. We’ve been down this road before, but a lie said frequently enough becomes truth, I so guess we need to dispel this myth. And I’m sure this will not be the last time.
Somewhere along the line “red meat” became the Red Scare of the nutritional world. It has saturated fat (gasp!) and comes from an animal! Case closed. Except that we can’t seem to hang much of anything on the saturated fat villain and if you put meat in a nutrition analyzer, you find it’s one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. The fact you can live on meat exclusively and indefinitely seems to get lost in the shuffle. And please, please do not bring up cultures that eat a lot of meat yet are quite healthy. That would require talking about “mechanisms” and doing legit metabolic ward studies. Crazy talk! I mean, things Like the Nurses Health Study already “showed” that the more meat and fat women ate the healthier they were, right? Folks really want to believe in this “meat=bad” idea, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Don’t fall for it.
Several people have already provided succinct, accurate criticism of this piece, so I do not want to belabor that part. I have bigger chicharrones to fry. The Blog, Constantly Varried had the aptly titled Red Meat: Here we go again while CavemanDoctor had a more sciency title.
Please check those out but the take-aways are:
1-Nutrition data was collected via Food Frequency Questionnaires. Yes, folks just had to remember what they thought they ate.
2-Confounders galore. The higher meat consumption group tended to be overweight, smoked and was less active. Apparently they did not get a Paleo cohort in that mix?
3-Correlation does not equal causation. Now…I hesitate to even include this and here is why: Some epidemiology CAN be done in such a way that we can find a correlation that is worth pursuing some kind of mechanistic validation. But this “study” is so poor, so lacking in rigor that the correlation/causation argument (although valid) gives this waste of paper more credibility than it deserves. I’ll make that clear by actually debunking a carbs=cancer piece in just a moment. But first I want to address something many folks have been quipping via Facebook and twitter: “Well, these results would be different if they used grass fed meat…”
Yosemite Sam captures my response to this reasoning perfectly:
Here is what folks need to understand, in crystal clarity: This study SUCKS. It was a waste of time and money, the study design is atrocious and it elucidates NOTHING that has not been (poorly) investigated previously! Folks, if you see “retrospective cohort” it should not be taken with a grain of salt, it should be taken with several hits of LSD so that you have a valid reason for perpetuating this fantasy. Think I’m being biased so I can “sell books promoting my pro-carnivorous position?” Well, check out this paper which claims to link starch with increased rates of recurrent breast cancer.
If you read through that piece you find that those folks are doing the SAME dumb “science” as in the current Red Meat Scare. They are ascribing differences in cancer rates with as little +/_ 3 grams of carbs PER DAY. From Food questionnaires! Now, I definitely lean towards the low carb side of things, I feel we have some nice potential mechanisms of causation with insulin resistance and cancer but it would be appalling to bandy this around as “proof” that starch causes cancer. Not because I do not think a mechanistic link exists here, but because this “study” is not worthy of lining a bird cage. I hope the similarities here are obvious and it also explains why I tend to not redistribute crap like this, even if I can spin it to my benefit given my biases. It’s not ethical, it’s not scientific. Said another way: we do not need to cheat to win this fight. We have plenty of evidence that low carb interventions crush low fat interventions, particularly in the sick and obese. So, even asking “would the outcomes be different with grass fed meat” is giving this study far more credit than it is due, Capiche? If we did the same study, used GF meat and found “great results” it would mean little as the data collection and basic study design are fundamentally broken. Similar to the starch piece, we can’t pick and choose what we want to validate.
Leave it to the Media
This CNN piece actually has a bit of sanity at the end of the article in which they reference Staffan Lindeberg. In stark contrast to this piece from Harvard in which the seemingly ever clueless Walter Willet can’t connect the dots to our ancestral story. The piece mentions our hunter gatherer past, recommends a diet of fruit, roots, meat and veggies, vilifies soda and fruit juice…but then the implementation looks little like the supposed prescription.
Time for a change
It’s time we went beyond protein, carbs and fat. It’s time we pit several competing dietary paradigms against each other in a metabolic ward, cross-over designed clinical trail. American Heart Association recommended diet vs vegan, vs Paleo. The time of shuffling the deck of cards trying to find a magic protein, carb, fat ratio needs to stop. That studies like the Red Meat and starch= cancer pieces get funding is an abomination. We need clinical trails and investigations of mechanism.
I’ll leave you with a few papers that build on the idea that Lipopolysacharide (LPS) is a player in metabolic derangement. In the first paper we see the effect of LPS on innate immunity via the SOC-3 gen.
The second paper looks at the effects of SOC-3 on leptin sensitivity. Here folks, we have a testable mechanism that seems to tie together quite a number of issues, from autoimmunity to metabolic derangement.
I know this stuff seems complex and some of it certainly is, but the main thing to consider in all this is “what type of study was performed?” The ketosis piece I linked to was a clinical intervention in obese humans. That’s solid stuff. These retrospective cohort “studies” are a waste of time and honestly, it’s how the dominant paradigm fights to maintain control of the conversation. They generate, cheap, easily manipulated tripe in which the data can be bent to meet the desired conclusion.