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Interesting Information: New Harvard Study on Red Meat and Cancer = Junk Science

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Interesting Information:  March 17, 2012

New Harvard Study on Red Meat and Cancer = Junk Science

I was quilting and listening to NPR news the other day when I heard a story about there being a “new” study that linked red meat and cancer.

Information about the type of study came late in the story, and I’d be willing to bet that what most people heard was “Harvard” and “red meat causes cancer.”

Before emoting on this blog, I poked around a bit and found out more information.  Here’s the press release from Harvard:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/2012-releases/red-meat-cardiovascular-cancer-mortality.html

And, here’s a story from Business Week:

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-12/a-hot-dog-a-day-raises-risk-of-dying-harvard-study-finds

***

Now, before you panic about your grass-fed red meat consumption, let’s do a bit of thinking together…

First of all, the study uses QUESTIONNAIRES to determine what people are eating.  This kind of methodology is famously inaccurate and, thus, unscientific.  You can poll 121,342 people, as this study did, and it’s still unscientific because it is always already inaccurate.  People lie for their own reasons or don’t remember exactly.

Second, CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION.  One famous example of this kind of thinking–leaping from a perceived association to hard fact–would be the very wrong connection between high cholesterol counts and heart attacks.  Do you know how many people have been seriously maimed by taking statins?  I don’t know, but I’ve written a Tipping Points essay on how they waste muscles in the body.  Since Big Pharma and our docs have made a fortune making statins and/or dispensing them, you can bet a LOT of people have been harmed.

Third, the so-called “killer” red meats here are PROCESSED red meats (hot dogs), bacon (not a red meat and made with nitrates), and FAST FOOD hamburgers (notoriously poor quality hamburger, which is probably full of pink slime).  This study is NOT covering high quality red meats, like grass-fed beef, which is free of disease and which is chock full of high-density nutrients.  The distinctions between types of red meat are NOT made in the study’s announcement.  Rather, all red meat is just lumped together and damned.

So, you can bet that if folks are eating a lot of hot dogs and fast food hamburgers, they are also drinking SODAS (full of sugar) and ordering FRENCH FRIES.  How many people eating a fast food hot dog or hamburger are going to order water with a slice of lemon???  Or, NOT order some french fries?

By the way, it’s not all that hard to find good quality–as in nitrate free–bacon and hot dogs.  And to find hot dogs not padded with soy.  And grass-fed beef is getting real traction in the market now.  Yes, it costs more.  It takes longer to bring the cow to market.  So, savor this beef  fully and cook with ALL the beef parts, not just the hamburger and the steaks.

Here’s a quote from the “Business Week” article, by Betsy Booren, the director of scientific affiars for the American Meat Institute Foundation:

All of these studies struggle to disentangle other lifestyle and dietary habits from meat and processed meat and admit that they can’t do it well enough to use their conclusions to accurately recommend people change their dietary habits….What the total evidence has shown, and what common sense suggests, is that a balanced diet and a healthy body weight are the keys to good health.

Fourth, don’t be fooled by slippery math.  I’m beginning to think of this kind of math exercise as “medical math.”  The study’s writers claim that their analysis showed that people who ate red meat–excuse me, who ate processed hot dogs, bacon, fast-food hamburgers, sodas, and french fries–had an increased risk of 16 percent risk of getting cancer.  Well, the study included 121,342 people, and 9464 people died from cancer.  That’s 8 % of the total.

Here’s more math.  That 16% is part of an unnamed total risk of cancer.  If that total risk is 8%, then you have to take 16% of the 8%, which increases the 8% by 1.28%, which makes the total 9.28%.  That’s a whole lot less that 16%.

Fifth, the study recommends eating more plant-based foods and other forms of protein.  Yet, plants are NOT nutrient dense.  And, they add in a lot of fiber and a lot of sugar (fruits, grains!) which we don’t handle well.  In short, we can’t digest cellulose.  We do not have the enzymes to process cellulose, and too much of it puts a lot of stress on our bodies.  As I’ve discussed in many of my essays now–see the essays on Gary Taubes’ WHY WE GET FAT, for instance–we can get every single nutrient we need, including all 8 essential fatty acids, from meat.  We could stop eating all carbohydrates and thrive.  That’s not junk science; that’s real science with MANY quantifiable test results behind it.

Are there micronutrients in vegetables and fruits that support health?  Probably.  Go slow with fruits, however.  They have a lot of sugar.  So, that’s why I really like the Paleo diet, as it mixes high-quality meat with veggies and fruits.  The Paleo diet drops grains, legumes (a poor source of protein and a problem to digest), and dairy.  I have access to high-quality raw dairy, and I do include it.  Do take a look at the Dr. Terry Wahls video posted earlier on this blog.

The suggested protein alternatives each have problems.  Fish is full of mercury in, increasingly, levels that are not healthy.  We’ve cut our fish consumption down considerably.  It’s now a real treat.  Commercial chicken, besides being utterly tasteless, is full of arsenic and has been fed a lot of GMO soy and corn.  We avoid commercial poultry and buy organic if we’re forced to buy commercial chicken.  We’re lucky here in Maine to have access to pastured chickens for meat.  But, if you find your local farmers and ask, you can probably find some free-range meat chickens.  As for nuts–give me a break.  Nuts are NOT protein dense.

Sixth, here’s another scientific fact for you:  only red meat contains sufficient quantities of vitamin B12 in forms your body can use.  If you lack B12, or no longer can process it from your foods, you’ll get dementia.

So, I agree with Rob Wolf, THE PALEO SOLUTION, about this kind of “science.”  It’s junk.  It’s a waste of time, money, and energy.  It has no core principles at its heart.  It’s why people are so confused about what to eat.

Shame on you, Frank Wu!!!

Damn junk food for the problem it is, yes.  But don’t participate in the correlation in place of causation problem.  And don’t lump grass-fed beef into this study and say so clearly.  Grass-fed red meat is totally different from commercial pink-slimed meat produced in CAFO lots.  Don’t confuse people like this.

And, shame on NPR for even reporting on this story.  It amounts to advertising “facts” that anything but.

Written by louisaenright

March 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm

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