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The Paleolithic diet proponents are up-in-arms about the alarming news that eating red meat may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and lead to an early death.  The new study entitled, Red Meat Consumptions and Mortality, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that:

“Greater consumption of unprocessed and processed red meats is associated with higher mortality risk. Compared with red meat, other dietary components, such as fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains, were associated with lower risk.” 

Only hours after this report was released, the media hit the hype button with these articles:

All red meat is bad for you, a new study says.

Red meat is blamed for one in ten early deaths.

Scientists warn, “red meat can be lethal”.

Unfortunately, this study does seem to put a dark cloud over proud omnivores.  The study evaluated over 120,000 women and men from the Nurses’ Health Study  and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, for 28 and 22 years respectively and found that single daily serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of death from all causes.   A single serving of processed red meat—the equivalent of one hotdog—was associated with a 20% increased risk.

Staffan Lindeberg, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the University of Lund, in Sweden, says singling out red meat may be counterproductive.  

“Studies like Pan’s are inherently iffy due to red meat’s unhealthy reputation, which makes red-meat consumption difficult to tease apart from a person’s overall lifestyle, Lindeberg says.  A bigger threat to health is the sugar- and starch-heavy Western diet as a whole,” says Lindeberg.

Paleo diet proponents say that making conclusions from an observational study based on food frequency questionnaires is absurd.  Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist and the New York Times Best Selling author of The Paleo Solution – The Original Human Diet says there are a number of reasons why this study doesn’t hold water.  On his most recent blog post he cites these three reasons:

“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…”  More from Robb Wolf’s blog…

Red meat has had a bad wrap for years.  Unfortunately, many people who eat red meat often maintain other characteristics of an unhealthy lifestyle such as being over weight, doing less exercise, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.  According to the researchers of the study, they did take those factors into account in their analysis.  

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