The nation’s most prominent newsmagazine attempts to offer the final verdict for people worrying about whether they can (or can’t) eat red meat. Conclusion: Only if it’s a single bite.

Is it possible for a news story about the red meat industry to be both positive and negative?

Yes — and no.

Let me explain.

An article last week titled, “Should I Eat Red Meat?” could be simply ignored had it appeared on some pro-veggie health-related website. But when it’s published by TIME magazine online, it’s a different story altogether. In fact, to paraphrase the old cliché, if you have to ask the question, the answer’s “No.”

But get past the deliberately provocative headline — which all too many time-crunched TIME readers won’t — and the newsmagazine’s reporter noted that “red meat gets the green light,” at least according to the majority of the experts who were polled on the article’s title question.

That’s encouraging. Until you read a little further.

“Before you start a ‘bacon’ chant at your desk, you’ll want to hear their caveats,” the story’s opening paragraph continued. “A license to freebase filet mignon this is not.”

Uh, hey TIME: Just so you know? Free-basing went out with punk rock, videocassettes and jazzercise.

Then again, the venerable newsmagazine no longer restricts itself to coverage of domestic politics, business trends and foreign policy issues. The nation’s most self-important weekly publication now runs such helpful stories as “Three Breakfast Rules to Follow to Lose Weight,” “Kentucky’s Teen Fugitives Arrested in Florida.” and “Fox Renews Its New Shows Gotham and Empire,” (thank god!)

So first, here’s what the “experts” TIME consulted had to say to all those people agonizing over, “Gosh, can I eat red meat?”

  • David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center: “Studies find a strong association between processed meat and bad outcomes, but no such association for pure meat.”
  • Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD., R.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State University: “The key is moderation in lean beef intake. Stick to dietary recommendations for lean protein: a couple ounces a day.”
  • Julia Zumpano, R.D., at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart & Vascular Institute: Meat has far too big a place in the diet and should be limited to 1 time per week or less, [with] the best cuts being the leanest ones, like loin, tenderloin, sirloin, filet or flank.

And those are the people who are endorsing the consumption of meat!

The story went on to suggest that, “If you don’t already eat [beef], there’s no reason to add it, with Dr. Katz suggesting that, “Protein deficiency in the U.S. is all but unknown in people who aren’t overtly sick.”

Conclusion? Vegetarians “do just fine” without eating meat, according to the good doctor.

‘Far less than a hunk’

The story went on to quote Dan Buettner, who is a most interesting character. An adventurer who traveled by bicycle the length of North and South America, throughout Africa and across the former Soviet Union and was one of the first people to utilize the Internet to upload live reports of his explorations.

Hey, that was a big deal back when people were still free-basing coke.

Buettner is also a researcher who has studied populations of the oldest people in the world, which he details in his forthcoming book, “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.”

Buettner explained to TIME that the people who live longest do eat red meat, but only sparingly.

For such groups, “Red meat was a celebratory food, or it was something that was more of a condiment, not the main feature of a meal,” he said. He claimed that the longest-lived Americans are pescatarians — fish-eaters — and argued that the ideal amount of red meat (grassfed, free-range, organically certified, please) is only five servings a month.

When red meat does show up on the plates of the healthiest people in the world, Buettner added, it’s far less than a two-ounce hunk.

Really? A “hunk” that’s far less than two ounces is, what? Half a forkful? A single bite? And only five times a month? Perfect — if you happen to be a Buddhist monk living in a secluded temple in the Himalayas, but a little less-than practical for the rest of us.

But TIME closed by quoting dietitian Karen Ehrens, a consulting nutritionist, who encouraged people to think of meat as “a flavorful flourish, rather than a slab at the center of the plate,” then rolled out the obligatory talking point that, “Eating less [meat] is better for our health and for the environment.”

Thanks for the bulletin.

In the end, TIME’s tepid endorsement of meat-eating is so wrapped up in qualifiers about limiting consumption to the Bite-of-the-Week Club and choosing only grassfed beef raised on organic pastures as to be pretty much of a thumbs down on the “balanced diet” that has been the staple of mainstream dietary advice for generations.

If I actually has been searching for nutritional guidance, my time would have been better spent skimming through the story on “Three Breakfast Rules to Follow to Lose Weight.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.