Is Eating Beef Healthy? The New Fight Raging in Nutrition Science

Julia Belluz wrote . . . . . . . . .

A group of 14 researchers just set off a firestorm with a new series of studies that upends years of nutrition advice about meat. Their five systematic reviews, published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest there’s no health reason to eat less red meat — not even the bacon and salami we’ve been told for years to cut back on.

Led by Dalhousie University epidemiologist Bradley Johnston, the authors, who hail from seven different countries, focused on the impact of red meat consumption on cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mortality, among other effects, as well as people’s values and preferences regarding red meat.

Based on these studies, their conclusions — summarized in a new Annals clinical guideline — challenge the guidelines from just about every major national and international health group. Just four years ago, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that people should cut back on processed meats if they wanted to avoid certain types of cancer. The American Heart Association and the US government’s dietary guidelines panel have also long suggested curbing our meat habit for better health.

But the authors of the new studies argue that people can “continue their current consumption of both unprocessed red meat and processed meat,” meaning whatever amount they’re currently eating. That’s because the health impact of cutting back is either nonexistent or small, and the evidence of any harms is so weak, that it’d be misleading to suggest people should avoid meat for health reasons.

Importantly, the studies did not investigate non-health reasons for eschewing beef and bacon — including animal welfare and meat production’s harmful impact on the environment — and the science backing the environmental case remains stronger than ever.

But what’s really interesting about this new series is the argument that previously published guidelines have been, well, bad science.

“These papers provide a nice counterbalance to the current norm in nutritional epidemiology where scientists with strong advocacy tend to overstate their findings and ask for major public health overhauls even though the evidence is weak,” said Stanford meta-researcher John Ioannidis, a longtime critic of nutrition science who was not involved in the research.

So it comes as no surprise that already, the Annals series has prompted a fierce blowback from various groups who’ve long argued that red and processed meat consumption should be curbed. The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a slew of other researchers objected to the series. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — a group that’s long endorsed a plant-based diet — filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission in response to the studies, asking the agency to “correct false statements” contained in the report, which they deemed a “major disservice to public health.”

So how did the authors of the new studies come to a wildly different conclusion? It’s less a story about whether or not one should eat meat and more about the challenges of nutrition science and how eating recommendations should be made.

Why the study authors determined eating red meat is fine for health

In the past, many of the groups that have set guidelines for whether or not humans should cut back on meat considered a very broad range of research, from animal evidence to case-control studies, a relatively weak type of observational research. (Here’s more on different types of study designs.) As you may have guessed, there are all kinds of problems with these kinds of study designs.

Models based on animal studies don’t always bear out in humans. Case-control studies are not the most reliable, either: Researchers start with an endpoint (for example, people who already have cancer). For each person with a disease (a case), they find a match (a control) — or someone who doesn’t have the disease. They then look backward in time and try to determine if any patterns of exposure (in this case, eating meat) differed in those with cancer compared to those who don’t have cancer.

But since meat eaters differ so fundamentally from those who don’t eat meat, the reasons the two groups have varying health outcomes could have nothing to do with meat. Researchers try to control for these “confounding factors,” but they can’t capture all of them.

Some past reports on meat eating have also factored in the environmental and social effects of gobbling up steaks and bacon.

The five Annals papers did something different: They looked only at the health effects of processed and unprocessed red meat. Processed red meats — everything from hotdogs and bacon to lunch meats — are transformed by salting, curing, or fermentation. Unprocessed meats include beef, veal, pork, lamb, and venison. The papers were also systematic reviews and meta analyses, or syntheses of the research evidence that bring together a bunch of studies with the goal of coming to more fully supported conclusions. And the researchers used a very strict definition of what constituted reliable evidence for inclusion in their reviews.

GRADE, a tool researchers used to come up with their guidelines, explained

More specifically, they relied on a trusted research-rating system called GRADE, or the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation, to decide which studies to include in their papers. GRADE was developed for creating summaries of research evidence to help guide health decision-making. It’s currently the most widely used tool for evaluating the quality of science, with more than 110 organizations endorsing the method.

The idea behind GRADE is to push reviewers to base their conclusions on only the most certain evidence available. And, according to the tool’s criteria, in the case of meat consumption and health, that was large cohort studies and randomized control trials. So the researchers simply threw everything else out, including the animal studies.

The logic was simple, says study author Gordon Guyatt, a professor at McMaster University who also helped develop GRADE. “What GRADE does is say we should rely on the highest quality evidence. In this instance, we had 600 cohort studies alone.”

Cohort studies are considered to be more trustworthy than case-control studies. Unlike case-control studies, they follow people with a known exposure (eating meat) through time, waiting to see if, when, and how many people develop a particular health outcome (such as heart disease or cancer). This means researchers are not left searching for artificial controls to match their cases. And since participants are followed forward, researchers can track in real time what they’re eating instead of relying on people’s faulty memories of the past.

Randomized controlled trials, meanwhile, are deemed the gold standard in health research. They take two groups of people and randomly assign them to an intervention (in this case, eating meat or not). The idea is that the only difference between the two is the intervention (whether or not they ate meat) and not any of those other confounding factors, like socioeconomic status. And while they’re challenging (and rare) in nutrition research, they’re generally more reliable than, say, animal models.

So that’s why the conclusions of the series look different from other similar reports: They used a new approach to evaluating nutrition research, picking out the best available evidence, tossing the rest.

On a range of health outcomes — from deaths due to cancer and cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer incidence, stroke, all-cause mortality, and heart attack — the researchers generally found either no benefit on cutting back on meat or one so small, and based on such weak evidence, it was deemed unreliable. (You can read the papers here, here, here, and here.) For the fifth review, the researchers looked at people’s feelings about meat consumption, again focusing only on health concerns (read: not moral, ethical, or environmental reasons for avoiding meat). And they found, essentially, that many people are attached to meat, and feel being able to eat it influences their quality of life.

Even the best evidence in nutrition is far from perfect

But the authors were clear that even the best-available evidence on meat is far from perfect. Let’s parse the language in their guideline recommendation (emphasis mine):

The panel suggests that adults continue current unprocessed red meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence). Similarly, the panel suggests adults continue current processed meat consumption (weak recommendation, low-certainty evidence).

In GRADE, there are four levels of evidence. And evidence is rated down if it’s deemed problematic for any reason — from imprecision to risk of being biased. In the case of meat and disease, the researchers determined, even the best evidence was “low certainty.”

So, Guyatt said, “We’re closer to saying: we really don’t know,” while past guidelines have generally suggested we fully understand meat’s health effects.

Now let’s look at what a “weak recommendation” means, according to GRADE. Weirdly, this isn’t just about the strength of the evidence; it’s also about people’s values and preferences.

A “strong recommendation” comes when a guideline panel believes all fully informed people would make the same choice. A “weak” one comes when “there is likely to be important variation in the decision that informed persons are likely to make,” according to a BMJ explainer on GRADE. As you’ll remember, one of their Annals reviews looked at people’s values and preferences around meat consumption, and found the majority of people value meat.

“When you trade that off with uncertain — and if it exists at all — small benefit from reducing meat,” Guyatt added, “our inference is that most people would choose to continue.” Hence, the weak recommendation.

In the past, he added, guidelines appeared to be focused on getting people to eat less meat rather than a truly dispassionate look at the science. “It doesn’t serve that goal well to point out either the uncertainty or the small effect.”

Not everyone is sold on the researchers’ approach

While people like the tough-to-please meta-researcher John Ioannidis called the series “very rigorous and unbiased,” others were not as impressed.

The Harvard School of Public Health — well known for trumpeting a plant-based, Mediterranean eating pattern — issued a response to the series, essentially discrediting it for discounting all the evidence showing meat’s links with poor health.

Christopher Gardner, a Stanford nutrition researcher, called the study’s GRADE approach inappropriate for nutrition. “I respect they want to have a clear-cut evidence base,” he told Vox, “but it won’t apply to lifestyle.”

Other guidelines consider observational epidemiology in additional to animal research and randomized trials, he added. “If you do that — and you’re the WHO — you say ‘based on the overall evidence from multiple disciplines, this is our best advice,’” said Gardner. “[The Annals researchers] just cut that off at the knees and said we’re not going to consider most of that.” Specifically, he was concerned that the authors threw out important and potentially relevant research, such as the PREDIMED and the Lyon Diet Heart studies. While these randomized trials didn’t focus on meat consumption, they did contain data on dietary patterns involving meat that may have been relevant.

Then there was the concern over the series’ omission: meat’s impact on climate, water, land, and pollution. “This is a missed opportunity,” the Harvard researchers wrote, “because climate change and environmental degradation have serious effects on human health, and thus is important to consider when making recommendations on diet, even if this is addressed separately from direct effects on individual health.”

But that wasn’t the purpose of the studies, said Guyatt. The point was to zero in on the fraught question of meat’s direct influence on health. Plus, he added, the new series is an attempt to do something radical: to say the rules of science should apply to nutrition. “Why have one set of rules for judging [nutrition] and another set of rules for some other area?” he asked. As he and his colleagues continue to apply their new method to other dietary questions, they may lead us to more uncomfortable conclusions.

Source: Vox

Greenpeace Calls for 71% Less Meat Consumption in Europe by 2030

Meat consumption in the European Union should drop by 71% by 2030, and by 81% by 2050, to tackle farming’s contribution to climate breakdown, according to new analysis by Greenpeace. This would mean an average of no more than 460 grams of all types of meat leaving the slaughterhouse per person per week by 2030, and 300 grams in 2050, down from the current EU average of 1.58 kilograms per person per week.

Given that not all meat is ultimately sold or eaten, the actual amount of meat that people eat would be under 460 grams – probably less than the equivalent of three burgers per week. The Lancet recommends that people eat no more than 300 grams of meat per week by 2050 as part of a balanced, sustainable diet.

Europeans consume around twice as much meat as the global average, and almost three times as much dairy. Figures for all EU countries, plus the UK, are available below.

Greenpeace is calling on the European Commission to recognise the environmental impact of meat and dairy overconsumption, and to include reduction targets in its upcoming ‘Farm to Fork’ food strategy, due to be published on 25 March.

Greenpeace EU agriculture and forest campaigner Sini Eräjää said: “The science is overwhelming at this stage – overconsumption of meat and dairy is wrecking forests, crushing nature and heating the planet. The Commission wants to talk about ensuring healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable way? Great idea, but that means it’s time to talk about reducing meat.”

The calculation of a reduction of global meat consumption to 24kg per person per year by 2030, and then further to 16kg per person per year by 2050, is based on levels that scientists say would ensure food security, while keeping global heating below 1.5°C.

Spain has the highest per capita meat consumption in the EU at over 100kg per person per year, requiring a 76% reduction by 2030. Bulgaria has the lowest consumption at 58kg per person annually, requiring a 59% drop by 2030.

The latest drafts of the Commission’s Farm to Fork plan recognise the EU’s overproduction and overconsumption of meat and dairy as a problem, but fail to propose measures to reduce them. Greenpeace’s demands for the Farm to Fork strategy are available here.

On 9 March, 3,600 scientists published an article condemning the EU’s common agricultural policy and its continued support of industrial animal farming. They recommended cutting payments for intensive animal farming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Meat and dairy production contributes to climate breakdown and to the destruction of forests and other ecosystems. Animals like cows and pigs expel greenhouse gases directly and drive clearing of natural areas used for feed production.

Source: Greenpeace

Study: Meat Still Isn’t Healthy

Serena Gordon wrote . . . . . . . . .

After a weekend of football-shaped pigs-in-a-blanket, you probably don’t want to hear that the latest study on red and processed meat found that these foods boost your risk of heart and blood vessel disease.

The study also found that meat ups your risk of premature death.

“Consume red and processed meats in moderation because even two servings or more a week are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and mortality,” said study senior author Norrina Allen, director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

These latest findings might seem to contradict an earlier study — published in the fall in the Annals of Internal Medicine — that had meat fans cheering. That study reported researchers couldn’t say with certainty that eating red meat or processed meat caused cancer, type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

That study was heralded by many as a green light to eat those foods with abandon. But plenty of studies that came before found links between red and processed meat and health harms. And major health organizations, such as the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, were quick to recommend against stuffing sausages and other meats back into your diet.

In 2015, a World Health Organization evidence review concluded that processed meats are a proven cancer-causing substance and that red meat probably is, too.

The new research included six prospective studies of nearly 30,000 adults. A prospective trial is one that follows people over time and periodically collects data on their health. In this case, participants were followed for up to 30 years.

The researchers found that those who ate just two servings of processed meats a week had a 7% higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Processed meats include deli meats, hot dogs, bratwurst, sausage and bacon.

Folks who ate two or more servings of unprocessed red meat — such as beef or pork — had a 3% higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Poultry also showed a link, but Allen said the finding was inconsistent and would need to be replicated in another study. There was no association with fish and a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Eating two or more servings a week of red meat or processed meat was associated with a 3% increased risk of dying during the study. Fish and poultry were not tied to a higher risk of dying.

The more red and processed meats people ate, the greater their risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death, Allen said.

But just how do these foods increase these risks?

Allen pointed to high amounts of saturated fat and sodium as likely culprits. Plus, she said, if you’re eating a lot of meat, you’re probably not getting enough fruits and vegetables.

Allen said she would “recommend eating red and processed meat in moderation. Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains — they have beneficial effects.”

Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick is director of the Marie-Josee and Henry Kravis Center for Cardiovascular Health at Mount Sinai Heart in New York City. He wasn’t part of the study, but reviewed the findings.

“This is a respected and reputable group, and this study is coming on the heels of the previous controversial paper,” Mechanick said. “These results support what we’ve commonly believed.”

But he said it’s important not to fixate on just one aspect of the diet.

“There’s no single food that dictates whether a lifestyle is healthy,” Mechanick explained. “If you have an overall healthy eating pattern, having bacon with your eggs isn’t going to mitigate your health.”

Like Allen, he said the focus should be on eating more vegetables and fruits. Mechanick suggested five to 10 servings a day. He added that diet isn’t the only important factor in your health: It’s also important to get plenty of physical activity and work on reducing your stress levels.

The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Source: HealthDay

Is Eating Meat Worse Than Burning Oil?

Charles Kennedy wrote . . . . . . . . .

Bad news for meat worshipers. Eating healthy isn’t just good for your body–it’s good for the environment, too, according to a series of new studies, suggesting that only vegetarians can save the planet.

The fight against climate change is already polarizing enough without adding the meat-plant divide.

But new studies insist that what we eat has quite a lot to do with climate change. It’s not just about food security or species extinction, either.

Today’s food supply chain creates around 13.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents and 26 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

A further 2.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (5 percent) are caused by nonfood agriculture and other drivers of deforestation.

A study from 2017 found that if citizens in 28 high-income nations like the United States, Germany, and Japan actually followed the dietary recommendations of their respective governments, greenhouse gases related to the production of the food they eat would fall by 13 percent to 25 percent. But giving up meat is hard to do.

According to the not-for-profit environmental research group World Resources Institute, humanity is not on track to meet Mission 2020, the parameters laid out to prevent catastrophic global warming and irreversible environmental damage.

With the global population growing from 7 billion in 2010 to a projected ~10 billion in 2050, and income growth across the developing world, overall food demand is set to increase by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, demand for delicious animal-based foods is set to increase by nearly 70 percent.

With agriculture already using almost half of the world’s vegetated land, and agriculture and related land-use change generating one-quarter of our annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, what we eat has, perhaps, growing implications for topsoil, pollution, greenhouse gases, and deforestation.

Deleting meat and animal products from the menu might be unthinkable for many people but sparing cows would significantly reduce negative effects on the environment. Meat, sadly enough, are apparently the worst type of food, because of the scale of resources that go into their production. Yes, meat may be a great source of protein, but its production is extremely energy-intensive.

How much energy does it take to produce a steak?

Meat and dairy products, particularly from cows and other livestock, account for around 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases each year, which is about the same amount as emissions from all cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships combined.

According to a study published last year in the journal Science, beef and lamb have the biggest climate footprint per gram of protein, followed by pork and chicken. In this calculation of the average greenhouse gas emission associated with different foods, plant-based foods tend to have the smallest impact. Of course, they are also less yummy.

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean we all have to go vegan. Just eating less beef, lamb and cheese would be enough.

Milk has a smaller climate footprint than chicken, eggs, or pork per pound, according to study, as does yogurt, cottage cheese and cream cheese. But not all dairy is created equal. Cheddar or mozzarella cheese can have a significantly bigger footprint than even chicken or pork, since it typically takes about 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.

So it all depends on what cheese do you decide to eat—just being a vegetarian might not be a good solution if you’re stuck on cheese with a higher carbon footprint. In any case, almond, oat, and soy milk is a better choice than cow milk.

Eating meat is not the only thing causing climate change problems, some experts say. We also have to take into account food waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans throw out around 20 percent of the food they buy. All the energy used for producing that same wasted food is also wasted.

Changing the way we eat—completely changing the way we eat—may be unpalatable for some. But experts contend that making just a few changes in your food habits is enough to improve your health and make a positive difference on the planet.

And Millennials are already doing this.

According to OnePoll study, close to 60 percent of Millennials are currently following a certain diet, such as vegan, keto, whole 30 and others, the New York Post reported. And that’s not all. The reason behind adopting that special diet is that 44 percent of those Millennials believe it is better for the environment, while 37 percent think it is more ethical. In addition, one-third of Millennials have cut down on their meat consumption.

Source: Oil Price

What Does Cutting Meat Against the Grain Really Mean?

Alex Delany wrote . . . . . . . . .

Yeah, it matters how you slice your meat. Don’t worry though, figuring it out is easy.

Going “against the grain” (or across it) usually implies hardship. It suggests that you’ve made a move for a reason that compels you put forth some extra effort. When it comes to meat, cutting across the grain is highly encouraged. There’s no hardship. You just need to know what you’re doing.

Usually, we cut a piece of meat against the grain after it’s finished cooking and resting, just before serving. It’s a bit different when we’re working with our sriracha-brisket sandwiches though. We don’t want to cook the brisket whole (since we want as much surface area exposed to our delicious braising solution). That means we’re going to slice the brisket, across the grain, before we start to cook it. If we were smoking this thing, we’d slice it after. Don’t worry, you don’t need to go buy a smoker.

Whether or not you work out (get swole, manage gains, pump iron, etc.), we’re pretty sure you don’t have a muscle as big as a first cut brisket. And that’s what a first cut brisket is, a single muscle (one of the two that make up a whole brisket). It’s actually the biggest single muscle in the cow, and since it’s so big, it has incredibly long muscle fibers. If you were to cook it whole, you’d get super long strands when you shredded it. Like six or eight inches long, which is definitely too big for a modest Martin’s potato bun to handle.

Figuring out how the grain runs on a piece of raw meat is actually pretty easy. You just need to know what to look for. Visually, you should be able to see lines running in one direction, all the way across the brisket. Those are the muscle fibers. If it’s a bit hard to tell just by looking, grab each end of the brisket and pull in opposite directions. You should be able to see the fibers separate or stretch away from each other. The fibers usually run length-wise on a brisket, so that’s good to keep in mind.

Once you’ve identified which way the grain runs, it’s time to make your cuts. We are literally going across, so we want to cut at a perpendicular angle. It doesn’t have to be exactly 90 degrees. We want our slabs to be about 2” thick, so the fibers are easier to shred once they’ve cooked.

And like we said, this against the grain technique isn’t just for brisket. We don’t discriminate. Once you’ve learned in the brisket, use it on every meat, from perfectly grilled pork chops to an insane porterhouse. Well, maybe not a porterhouse. Those things are expensive. A sirloin will do just fine.

Source: GQ Magazine