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Is Red Meat Good? Why Experts Flip-Flop

Your health is highly dependent on nutrition and the function of your mitochondria. Mitochondria are the little powerhouses in each cell; when they're not functioning well, your health is likely to be suboptimal. Mitochondria affect longevity, and problems with mitochondria have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases.

Lowering your exposure to pesticides and GMOs, particularly in meat and dairy, will help you enjoy a healthier life. A cow's body is designed to eat and process grass, but the majority of beef and dairy in the U.S. comes from cows finished on grain. Unfortunately, this is the way of unethical, unhealthy and environmentally devastating concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that dominate industrial agriculture.

There are a number of diet-based ways to sustain your mitochondria, and stearic acid found in grass fed beef may be one of the best. However, recent advice has recommended consumers steer clear of red meat. In 2014, consumers ate the lowest amount of red meat recorded since 1960.1

This may have been the result of several factors, including recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics claiming a plant-based diet may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke,2 and a report by the World Health Organization concluding red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans.3

What About the Conflicting Information on Beef?

In a new analysis of past research data4 scientists looked at what effects a higher intake of red meat might have on cardiometabolic disease and cancer in adults. They examined trials that compared diets lower in red meat against those evaluating diets higher in red meat. The data were reviewed independently by two teams and researchers concluded:

Low- to very-low-certainty evidence suggests that diets restricted in red meat may have little or no effect on major cardiometabolic outcomes and cancer mortality and incidence.

The outcome was called “jarring” by Vox.5 Most media outlets are asking how scientists can flip-flop on the place red meat may safely hold in a nutritional plan. As Nina Teicholz, executive director for Nutrition Coalition, writes in the Los Angeles Times, most recommendations have been made with the aim of limiting saturated fats. She says:6

A recent paper in the journal BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine consolidates 17 separate reviews showing these fats, whether from meat, cheese or coconut oil, have no effect on mortality. And if red meat causes disease by some mechanism other than saturated fat, no strong body of evidence has emerged to support it.

As Teichholz points out,7 most nutritional guidelines are based on epidemiological studies that ask individuals to self-report over a long period of time. The researchers then observe and report on eventual health outcomes. While these types of studies may show an association between two factors, they rarely establish causation.

The Opposition Was Ready Before the Study Was Released

I should note that a few days after the study came out, The Washington Post revealed that the study’s authors had undisclosed conflicts of interest, in that the research group they worked with was receiving money “from a university program partially backed by the beef industry.” Study authors responded that their research was completed before the funding became available.8

Before the study was even released, though, one group9 had already galvanized supporters and filed a federal petition. They claimed there were false statements made, called the review an advertisement and requested the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) permanently prohibit the journal “from disseminating or causing the dissemination of the advertisement at issue.”

Additionally, they requested the FTC require the magazine to issue a retraction and corrective statement. A second press release on the same day questioned whether the new study might be “clickbait,”10 a reference to fake news, while ignoring evidence that unprocessed meat did not contribute to premature death.

In 201211 they commended a study from the Harvard School of Public Health in which researchers found a 13% increase in the risk of dying prematurely for those who ate unprocessed red meat every day. Compare this to what is known about eating processed meats — such as hot dogs, sausage and bacon — which increases the risk by 20%.

However, Harvard Medical School12 published a piece in which it was noted that results of the study were “somewhat less scary,” since relative risk was reported as opposed to absolute risk. The absolute risk of death in women eating one serving of unprocessed meat a week compared to eating two servings of unprocessed meat a day increased from 0.7% risk to 0.85% risk of death.

The increase in men went from 1.23% to 1.3% with an increase in eating unprocessed meat. In the same article from Harvard Health Publishing, they discussed a Japanese study in which researchers found no connection between eating a moderate amount of meat and premature death. In her piece in the Los Angeles Times, Teicholz concluded:13

According to government data, despite a 28% reduction in red-meat consumption in the U.S. since 1970, some 60% of Americans now suffer from at least one chronic disease in which diet is a major risk factor. The Annals review is exactly what we need: dietary cause-and-effect information based on strong science.

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