Let’s Chew on the Health Effects of Red Meat: Brainstorm Health

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Good afternoon, readers.

Let’s have a chat about meat.

I’m usually hesitant to wade into nutritional debates—they are, often, driven by sensationalist claims, cherry-picked results, poorly designed studies, and a big old dollop of confirmation bias—but there’s a pretty big one dominating the internet right now.

Specifically, a series of analyses published in the Annals of Internal Medicine find that the conventional doomsday advice about the health effects of eating red meat like pork and beef may be… a bit doomsday-ish.

The controversial findings (major health associations have already hit back hard) conclude, largely by analyzing previous studies, that reducing red meat consumption only has a marginal effect on things like cardiovascular health or cancer risk.

There are serious shortcomings to pretty much all nutritional studies. For one thing, they’re usually based on “observational” and self-reported data, rather than a randomized clinical trial. That, in and of itself, can muddy the scientific waters.

Aaron Carroll, a physician and guru on these kinds of issues, and co-author Tiffany Doherty have a fascinating take on all this in the latest Annals issue. “We have saturated the market with warnings about the dangers of red meat. It would be hard to find someone who doesn’t “know” that experts think we should all eat less. Continuing to broadcast that fact, with more and more shaky studies touting potential small relative risks, is not changing anyone’s mind,” they wrote.

What’s even more interesting is what Carroll and Doherty suggest as an alternative to get people to eat less meat—which may still be a laudable goal. “Ethical concerns about animal welfare can be important, as can concerns about the effects of meat consumption on the environment. Both of these issues might be more likely to sway people, and they have the added benefit of empirical evidence behind them. And if they result in reducing meat consumption, and some receive a small health benefit as a side effect, everyone wins,” wrote the authors.

Chew on that for a second. And read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee, @the_sy_guy, sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com


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