You may have heard about or read news coverage of a “huge” European research study published in BMC Medicine earlier this month that (allegedly) demonstrated—yet again—that eating red meat, nutritionally speaking, is about as safe as playing catch with containers of nitroglycerin.
The European Prospective Investigation in Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), as the study was titled, was certainly large—it examined the dietary habits of nearly 450,000 healthy adults between the ages of 35 and 69—and tightly focused: In the author’s own words, “The aim of this study was to examine the association of red meat, processed meat, and poultry consumption with the risk of early death.”
Predictably, the authors concluded—surprise!—that eating red meat and processed meats was very, very bad. “We estimated that 3.3% of deaths could be prevented if all participants had a processed meat consumption of less than 20 grams a day” (that’s about 5 ounces a week, by the way).
Similar studies, notably a recent large-scale, retrospective dietary analysis done by Harvard University School of Public Health researchers, confirmed that hypothesis: Adding just one serving of red meat a day increased the risk of earlier death by 13% (20% higher if they were eating processed meats).
Most of the major media covering such studies stop right there and simply conclude that eating red meat—or, God forbid, processed meat—will put you in an early grave. End of story.
Now—who wants pepperoni on their pizza?
An unlikely ally
However, a couple of media sources didn’t take the bait. One of them, of all places to find such an article, was the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine online. What writer Stephanie Mencimer reported was eye-opening. She wrote:
“What news outlets downplayed about the [EPIC] study is that despite their best efforts, the EU researchers couldn’t find any evidence that red meat will kill you. In fact, the study shows that not eating red meat is a risk factor for an early demise.”
How’s that for shock value?
After correcting some measurement errors, Mencimer noted that the Euro-researchers were forced to conclude that not only was red meat intake “no longer associated with mortality” but “all-cause mortality was higher among participants with very low or no red meat consumption.”
How could that be true, when government, medical and public health officials—not to mention the very vocal leaders of the American Heart Association—have always claimed that eating too much red meat is a direct cause of heart disease, stroke and other health problems?