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Always Be Skeptical Of Nutrition Headlines: Or, What "Red Meat Consumption and Mortality" (Pan et.al.) Really Tells Us
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March 14, 2012
6:18 am
First-Eater
Forum Posts: 2105
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February 22, 2010
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Normally I'd be continuing my ongoing series on the evolutionary history of the human brain. However, there is yet another red meat scare story making the rounds—and many readers have asked me to analyze it. Should we really be eating less red meat?

I don't like to spend my time debunking specific studies—because as I said in a previous article about bad science, it's like trying to hold back the ocean with a blue tarp and some rebar. However, I've wanted to write an article about the limitations and potential abuses of observational studies for some time, and "Red Meat Consumption…

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March 14, 2012
7:56 am
Chandra
Guest

Can I just say...TIMELY and THANKS! After the latest story about how meat kills, some of my veg friends were calling for a, what say you Paleo friends - ha ha, you're gonna die?

Ah gnolls, the voice of reason.

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March 14, 2012
8:15 am
Neal Matheson
Guest

This kerfuffle truly saddened me, why am I constantly having to defend or justify myself and what I choose to eat/feed my daughter? More ammo for the sat fat tax here in the UK (that said I think they don't want the fight and to be shown to have been leading the British public a merry dance for the past 30 years).
Why was theire no big international health splash about the second study?
The veggies have totally siezed the highground in the science, the PR and the ethics despite the fact that it is unethical and unscientific to exclude animal products.
Many in my family are increasing the helathiness of thir diets this press bollocks has really worried them, which of course was the point.

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March 14, 2012
9:00 am
ddn
Guest

Fantastic article. I had written a short analysis of the data, but I didn't even consider the reliability of the data itself.

This might be a little too nitpicky, but even a triple-blind controlled study can't prove causality. It's still, at best, a very proximate temporal association. Proving causality is worthy of an article of it's own.

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March 14, 2012
9:39 am
Chuckie B.
Guest

Awesome, J. Hopefully the people who would be best served by reading your debunking won't lack the intelligence to appreciate it's significance...hopefully.
On another subject, Peter Attia, the gentleman who I saw give a presentation with Gary Taubes last year and who has some rather astonishing numbers from his own personal nutritional experiment (albeit n=1, but, hey, if he can do it, then it at least proves that it is possible to eat more calories, exercise less and shed body fat as long as one severely restricts carbohydrates) finally has a web presence (blog and then some) over at waroninsulin.com just as I recommend his readers to you I recommend his blog to you. In addition to being an M.D. He's also a ketoadapted endurance athlete who crosstrains with crossfit type exercises at a very high level!

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March 14, 2012
9:53 am
UK
Gnoll
Forum Posts: 49
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June 14, 2011
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Nice summary.  There was some excellent commentary along these lines on mainstream radio in the UK (notably BBC Radio 4 and Channel 4 news), where similar points were made.  These are national news outlets.

Radio 4 featured Joanna Blythman who broadly outlined a paleo diet in favour over dietary advice based upon CW, and generally disparaged the tide of bad nutritional advice we get fed.  TBH I think we in the West are getting fatigued by the conflicting dietary advice we get.

Zoe Harcombe also makes a great point on her blog - "The numbers are very small. The overall risk of dying was not even one person in a hundred over a 28 year study. If the death rate is very small, a possible slightly higher death rate in certain circumstances is still very small. It does not warrant a scare-tactic, 13% greater risk of dying headline – this is ‘science’ at its worst"

 

I avoid foods that have the same name the world over.  I also avoid foods that change their nutritional stripes to reflect dietary advice of the day.  In a similar way I am pretty sure I have my diet dialled in because I am both health conscious AND such headlines have not and do not make me change my diet one bit.

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March 14, 2012
10:06 am
Paul Verizzo
Guest

Even if they were correct, would you give up a nice porterhouse every week for another bowl of tofu on seaweed?

Not me.......

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March 14, 2012
11:26 am
guest
Guest

FYI, Mark's Daily Apple has a startlingly similar piece by Denise Minger, that by all appearances was posted after yours...

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March 14, 2012
12:23 pm
jake
Guest

masterful, sir. thank you!

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March 14, 2012
12:27 pm
Wayne D Johnson
Guest

On the general subject, what is your opinion of "crossover" studies (assuming adequate washout periods, etc.)? Regards, Wayne

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March 14, 2012
2:50 pm
Halifax, UK
Gnoll
Forum Posts: 365
Member Since:
June 5, 2011
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Sound and fun, J.

I must say, when I heard the story (first thing ... News on the TV while I get ready for work), my ears perked up. But when the word "processed" was placed in front of red meat, I just ignored the rest.

Taking the long view, if this was actually true we would have died out millennia ago ... or it is "ideal" :D

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Living in the Ice Age http://livingintheiceage.pjgh.co.uk
March 14, 2012
3:00 pm
Fmgd
Guest

The worst thing about this is that it creates a kind of self-supporting cycle. As the message about a given food gets stronger, people tend to "compensate" their actual intakes more and more, which in turns makes for even more numerous and scary headlines.

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March 14, 2012
3:26 pm
Aaron Blaisdell
Guest

Truth will out. Or we'll outlive the SAD eaters because our dietary choices are based on truth and wisdom--a powerful cocktail for success and thriving. I propose we invite the authors of this study to a panel discussion at AHS12 at Harvard this August to respond to your post, Denis Minger's, and Zoe Harcombe's deconstruction of their study. I'd really like to hear their reactions at justifying their own existence.

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March 14, 2012
3:41 pm
Zak Klemmer
Guest

My dad worked in a steel mill when he was young and ate red meat. He lived in Los Angeles the last 50 years of his life and ate red meat, he drank beer and wind with an occasional shot of whiskey. He lived to be 97 years and 2 months. Ergo eating red meat, drinking and breathing polluted air is good for your health.

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March 14, 2012
4:07 pm
ed martinez
Guest

Thirty plus years ago I read a small book by Roger Williams (not sure of his name but he had many scientific honors in his resume). "Nutrition in a nutshell". His advice is still valid: Variety is the best nutrition of all. He even reminded us that protein was not just muscle tissue, as in steak. Kidneys, pancreas, brains too, in moderation. In another early study on cholesterol a doctor from Canada (I think the book was The Cholesterol Controversy, pointed out that animals on extremely low cholesterol diet aged faster and on autopsy had spleens with "abnormal " histological findings typical of old age.

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March 14, 2012
4:33 pm
Uncephalized
Guest

JS, a quick note: the correlation/causation fallacy would be, I believe, more correctly translated: "with this, therefore because of this". You left out "ergo". :)

Keep up the good work!

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March 14, 2012
4:39 pm
peter aris
Guest

JS your final comment is bunkum

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March 14, 2012
4:59 pm
Tom
Guest

It's already been proven. The foods we've been told are healthy are not. The foods we've been told to avoid are the healthy ones. See "Sleeper" by Woody Allen!

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March 14, 2012
6:11 pm
First-Eater
Forum Posts: 2105
Member Since:
February 22, 2010
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Chandra:

Though it's not always easy, I try to remain the voice of reason.

Neal:

I predicted this long ago: see You Are A Radical, And So Am I.  Expect the onslaught to continue.

ddn:

Fortunately I remembered Chris Masterjohn had already done the hard work on that topic!

And yes, you're right: nothing can really "prove" causality, and there are plenty of shenanigans in the RCTs of, say, statin drugs.  But we can get closer and closer to the truth.

Chuckie B:

I've seen Dr. Attia's site, and I'm very interested in his performance data, because the studies to date are almost never on people eating anything approaching an ancestral diet -- let alone people in ketosis.

Asclepius:

That's a good point about the relative vs. absolute risk: even if we took the claims at face value they wouldn't matter much.  However, I don't like the rest of Harcombe's article, because it goes on and on about the bad health characteristics of the high reported meat quintile -- but Pan et.al. claim to have already controlled for those factors in order to come up with the 12% figure.  That's why I don't use that particular argument except as a gateway to pointing out the howling disparity in calorie intake.

I agree that it doesn't change my behavior, either, because I'm comfortable with my knowledge of human biology and evolutionary history -- but I want to provide information that helps others to understand why these sorts of headlines are bunk.

Paul:

I wouldn't go on a diet that prolonged my life to age 150 if it made me look like Dean Ornish.

guest:

Denise's article was posted just a few hours after mine, so I'm sure we were working on them in parallel.  I'm encouraged by the fact that I didn't miss anything Denise found!

 

More soon!

JS

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March 14, 2012
6:23 pm
First-Eater
Forum Posts: 2105
Member Since:
February 22, 2010
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jake:

I appreciate the support.  Please forward it on to anyone you think might find it helpful or interesting!

Wayne:

I'm suspicious of crossover studies, but it depends on what's being measured.

The classic example of when to NOT use a crossover is the Finnish Mental Hospital Study.  There's no such thing as a "washout period" for heart disease!  On the other hand, if you're measuring short-term metabolic parameters like heart rate, serum uric acid, etc., you can often get away with it.

Paul:

This all goes back to my article Live Now, Live Later: "I reject the bizarre concept that millions of years of evolution has selected us to enjoy only things that kill us, and to avoid everything that keeps us alive and healthy."

Fmgd:

You're correct.  1) "Wearing fedoras causes heart disease." 2) Thirty years of anti-fedora advertising campaigns later, only people who don't care about their own health still wear fedoras. 3) "See? People who wear fedoras die younger.  Fedoras really are bad for you!"

More coming...

JS

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