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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
8:16 pm
Tony Suckla
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Ok I agree with you that many polls are manipulated and give incorrect information but to the question of eating meat and health, you gave your personal view that you think it is good for the heart without any evidence to back up your statement.
So I want to give my view based on personal experience. I used to be a heavy meat eater and I was recommended by some friends to try cutting the meat and eating more of a vegetarian diet. The results for me were great. I noticed i got sick less, and I noticed i could run longer without getting tired(i was jogger at the time). I do not feel the necessity of being a complete vegetarian but I feel that a light meat diet that mainly is composed of vegetarian items is a healthy diet.

March 14, 2012
11:09 pm
Fmgd
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@Tony Suckla,

I believe the aim of this article was not to show that eating meat is good, but to show how the study in question and similar studies don't really support the headlines they generate.

This article isn't even trying to prove that Pan et.al.'s data actually shows meat not to be a problem, it's just arguing that the study doesn't justify, or even couldn't justify, saying it is.

March 15, 2012
1:33 am
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Aaron:

The thought "I may have to talk to some of these people at AHS 2012" crossed my mind.  I've endeavored to keep my discussion civil and science-based.

Yes, I'm absolutely willing to participate in such a panel discussion -- and I'd love to take it to the next level, to wit: "Apparently we've known for over twenty years (since Salvini et.al.) that the food consumption data from the Nurses' Health Study ranges from "wildly inaccurate" to "complete bunk".  Why are we still basing research on it -- and, even worse, why are we basing public policy recommendations on it?"

Zak:

I could make a similar argument about my grandfather: smoked two packs a day for over 50 years, died of a non-smoking-related illness in his 80s.  Smoking is good for you!

Ed:

Roger Williams was an eminent scientist (he discovered pantothenic acid -- vitamin B5 -- among other things), but I'm unable to find any of his nutrition writing online.

I don't think variety for its own sake is a good idea: "a little bit of everything" is only a good strategy when you don't know what's good and what's bad.  I think it's best to eat more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff!  But since I have no way to know what Williams' actual words or intent are, I won't press the issue.

And yes, cholesterol is a vitamin, not a poison: it's absolutely necessary to life.

Uncephalized:

Good catch.  I added it back in.

peter aris:

Which comment do you mean?

Tom:

Most "health food" is indeed bad for us, but I don't believe the converse is true: everyone agrees that Twinkies and Mountain Dew are unhealthy, but the Twinkie/Dew Diet won't leave you in good health.

Also note that "health food" is indeed better than the SAD (Standard American Diet).  My favorite analogy is low-tar cigarettes: they're indeed less harmful than regular cigarettes...but you're still smoking cigarettes.

March 15, 2012
2:17 am
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Tony:

It's certainly possible to eat an relatively unhealthy meat-heavy diet (e.g. KFC and corn dogs), and it's also possible to eat a relatively healthy low-meat diet (e.g. the Kitavans).  

As I point out in this article, roughly 2/3 of self-described "vegetarians" in the USA actually eat meat!  The real difference between them and admitted meat-eaters is that their diet is healthier in many other ways.  For instance, "vegetarians" consume far more fish, vegetables, and fruit, and far less beer and french fries, than admitted meat-eaters.  So it's not surprising that they're healthier...our contention is that they'd do even better if they'd make the same dietary changes but keep unprocessed, sustainably raised meat on the menu!

Fmgd:

Exactly.  I'll go further and say that this article is using Pan et.al. as an example of why most nutrition headlines are either misleading or factually incorrect.

 

I'm caught up!  (On this thread...tomorrow I'll start responding to other threads.)  Thanks, everyone, for your support and corrections.  Keep them coming -- and please don't be shy.  Spread this article on Facebook, Twitter, via email, or anywhere else you've seen the scare stories pop up!

JS

March 15, 2012
4:10 am
BT
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Have had the headlines been quoted to me at work, and yes they enjoy the ammo but are not really interested in looking at the data..in my N=1 study of the subject I find eating red meat every day boring...so prefer to vary it with liver, brains, sweetbreads, fish, poultry, all free range of course and mixed in with as many vegies I can find ( organic as they taste better ) if I live longer I will take my secret to the grave as no one wants to hear from a "gnoll/paleo" nut job like me.

March 15, 2012
5:17 am
Oliver Vandagriff
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For years I worked as a statistician and research assistant. Then I taught statistics in a public high school. I have been in mathematics education practically all my adult life (I am 64). Thanks to J. Stanton for once again taking the time and trouble to explain real scientific inquiry verses survey/opinion compilation. I will keep eating red meat and enjoy it.

March 15, 2012
5:27 am
eddie watts
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i have seen surprisingly little of this, mostly because when i am forwarded things like this i reply along these sorts of lines.
will put this on my facebook page though as people should have complete knowledge of stuff like this.
also the pics are really funny 😀

March 15, 2012
5:58 am
Beowulf
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It's good to see a lot of well-written articles showing up in the paleo blogging community debunking the science behind these trials. I'm an intelligent, consciences eater. and a few minutes going through a food survey makes my head swim. It's just such a lousy way to gather data, and to base anything scientific on that data is an invitation for disaster.

The "health-conscious bias" is very hard for the average person to grasp, too. I remember during my vegetarian days I would often get a response from people that "Oh, that's why you're so healthy." I would then have to sigh and explain that I don't smoke, I exercise regularly, I eat plenty of whole food, and have genes that predispose me to be thin. And that potato chips and soda are vegetarian as well.

Now as a paleo eater I still have the same health-conscious bias, which means that my copious red meat consumption isn't associated with hot-dog buns, french fries, and soda. I somehow think that puts me in a different category of data...assuming the data is even good enough to be categorized.

March 15, 2012
7:40 am
Wayne D Johnson
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Thanks for answering my "crossover" question. Regarding this red meat study, is there any chance that you might someday do a layman’s explanation of “multivariate analysis” as used in such studies. E.g., does one need to assume dose-dependency and examine all the individual data points? Is it unreliable to use quintile averages (if they did so) in such analysis? Etc. Thanks and Regards, Wayne

March 15, 2012
11:04 am
George Henley
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The vast majority of people will just see/hear the fearful title put forth by the medias then scan the text reassured in their low fat/high carb comfort zones. It's only us "converts" who question the science and want more validation.

Guess we all need to add balance and objectivity to the debate by getting the truth out there so posts like this really, really help! Thank you.

Geo

March 15, 2012
8:22 pm
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BT:

Most people aren't interested in hearing anything that contradicts their existing viewpoint...paleo eaters included.

However, I'd be cautious about taking your secret to the grave...we could easily end up like Denmark, with a tax on saturated fat, if we don't continue to represent ourselves proudly.  People are less likely to push for something like that if they believe that there's a reasonable alternative viewpoint, even if they don't subscribe to it themselves.

Oliver:

Thank you.  It means a lot to have my work approved by a professional.

eddie:

I've been hoping for an excuse to post an xkcd cartoon for some time.

Thanks for sharing it on Facebook!  ("Likes" are nice, but "shares" are what get the word out to people who aren't already fans of mine.)  

Beowulf:

Exactly!  "Vegetarian" has become synonymous with "healthy eating", due to tireless vegetarian propaganda...we need to change that.

Wayne:

I'm not confident enough in my knowledge of statistics to teach the multivariate analysis class: perhaps Oliver can step in?

George:

I appreciate the support!  Don't lose hope: judging from the number of page views this article is getting, I'd say that there are quite a few people questioning the science.  

No, I'm not up there with the Daily Telegraph or the LA Times -- but there are a lot more of us than you might think.

JS

March 17, 2012
9:03 pm
Roger Leclair
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One good reason to eat LESS meat (less than what the North American eats, that is), apart to fight rampant obesity (a real societal problem), is to SAVE THE PLANET! Check what it takes of water and crop to produce just one kilo of red meat ! Not to mention their obnoxious emissions...

March 20, 2012
12:29 am
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Roger:

Industrial agriculture is destructive and unsustainable whether the end product is fed to people or to cattle.  I've written about this topic at length.

In contrast, grass-fed ruminants have negative carbon impact if properly managed -- something that cannot be said for any form of agriculture.  (It must be so: otherwise the Serengeti and the Great Plains would have blown away to dust millions of years ago from the impact of all those wildebeest and bison, and the Pleistocene wouldn't have been a continual global cooling trend, complete with Ice Ages.)

Also, consider that most of the figures for carbon impact of even the worst industrial feedlot beef are sheer baloney -- they assume that cattle are grain-fed their entire life, which is impossible.  (They die if you feed them on grain for more than a few months.)

JS

July 9, 2012
11:19 am
Ric Aspen
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The physicist Heisenberg received the Nobel prize for showing that there is really no such thing as cause and effect. He called it the theory of indeterminacy. It seems that cause and effect are just illusions.

The above statement comes from Dr. Thomas Hora's book, Existential Metaphychiatry, p. 141.

I have not read Heisenberg's work myself, but it seems to me that there must be something to it. I would be highly suspect of anyone claiming a cause and effect relationship between anything two or more random phenomena, such as the eating of meat and the incidence of illness. In my opinion, it's mad and ludicrous.

July 13, 2012
12:42 am
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Ric:

It might be impossible to "prove" cause and effect, but RCTs can get us to a reasonable functional facsimile...

...and those who decide to test whether the train will "really" run them over generally get run over.

JS

November 4, 2012
1:16 pm
Susan
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Hi JS,

Thank you for the giggles the spurious relationship graphs gave me...priceless!

November 9, 2012
3:03 am
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Susan:

Personally, I blame M. Night Shyamalan.

JS

November 22, 2012
6:03 am
S.P.Vallance
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Fantastic article JS, both informative and witty. Brilliant.

November 23, 2012
3:50 pm
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SP:

These articles seem to come out every year or two: yet another mining of the same known-bad data sets to produce another spurious association between reported meat consumption and something negative.

I think the latest one purports to show that meat-eaters beat their wives more often (not kidding).  Of course, the Third Factor in play is that vegetarians are many times more likely to be college-educated and of higher socioeconomic strata, and therefore much less likely to engage in domestic violence.

JS

January 1, 2013
6:35 am
S.P.Vallance
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"I think the latest one purports to show that meat-eaters beat their wives more often (not kidding). Of course, the Third Factor in play is that vegetarians are many times more likely to be college-educated and of higher socioeconomic strata, and therefore much less likely to engage in domestic violence."
WOW...just wow. That's just unbelievable. I have two friends, one of which is vegan and the other is vegetarian and I remember cooking red mince meat and my vegan friend made a sly remark saying, 'Heart disease...' and I had to hold my tongue, unfortunately. I'm glad I stumbled on your great site; it's not only informative but witty too, keep up the great work! P.S. Can you link me in the direction of a site and/or video that casts a critical eye on veganism specifically? Cheers.

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