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In Defense of Red Meat
Cooked meat is a nutrient dense food made possible by the discovery of fire, and it is argued that cooked meat allowed humanity to evolve larger brains. Open any newspaper nowadays and you will be confronted with headlines telling you that eating too much red meat will cause chronic disease, but go back 200 years and people ate more meat than nowadays, with lower rates of chronic disease. So, are we right to limit consumption, or is meat a scapegoat?
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The evidence linking red meat to various diseases is, at best, weak. Smoking is linked to lung cancer, on that we all agree. On average, smoking increases the risk of lung cancer about twenty times, a significant increase in risk. Of all the studies on red meat, the largest increase in risk for any disease is one and a half times.
Most studies of diet require people to keep a food diary. It is well known that people misreport their intake, exaggerating consumption of healthy fruit and vegetables and forgetting unhealthy options. Studies have shown that the reported intake can differ from the actual intake by as much as 25%, which makes it very difficult to draw solid conclusions.
The key problem with many studies on food and health is that it is hard to consider everything that might increase the risk of disease. For example, one study suggested that men on a diet of meat and potatoes had a slightly increased risk of colorectal cancer. Further study however found that on average these men ate more calories, did less exercise and were more likely to smoke, so whether their diet was the reason for an increased risk is questionable.
So currently, the jury is still out. The best advice for now, as always, is to consume a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight.
For further information
Read the Meat Science original research article which this summary is based on Research gaps in evaluating the relationship of meat and health (May 2014).
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