Harvard University medical scientists are reporting that Americans significantly shorten their life spans by consuming red meat — any red meat, fresh or processed. They’re warning us because of the results of a study that was published yesterday, March 12, in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. In summary, the researchers noted:
Red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases. However, its relationship with mortality remains uncertain.
We prospectively observed 37, 698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2008) and 83, 644 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (1980-2008) who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer at baseline. Diet was assessed by validated food frequency questionnaires and updated every 4 years.
So the data look pretty convincing given the length of time (20 or more years) and the type of people (well-educated) studied. The report’s conclusion is chilling:
Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, CVD, and cancer mortality. Substitution of other healthy protein sources for red meat is associated with a lower mortality risk.
In short, red meat consumption is likely to knock years off your life. I’d be pretty happy right now if I owned a vegetarian restaurant — or better — a chain of vegetarian restaurants.
Of course, if I owned a steakhouse, I’d blow off the study, saying that in a year or two there will be another one promulgating a diet of red meat instead. Or I’d argue that the data were faulty or unreliable because it relied on people’s memory of what they consumed.
Which is the message the American Meat Institute began spreading in yesterday’s press release. In it, Betsy Booren, AMI Foundation Director of Scientific Affairs, accused the Harvard researchers of “collecting and analyzing . . . highly inaccurate” data.
“All of these studies struggle to disentangle other lifestyle and dietary habits from meat and processed meat and admit that they can’t do it well enough to use their conclusions to accurately recommend people change their dietary habits. What the total evidence has shown, and what common sense suggests, is that a balanced diet and a healthy body weight are the keys to good health,” she said
That last sentence sounds reasonable enough. So it’s a baloney sandwich here, a Porterhouse there — and fish, nuts, and grains in between. “Balance” is a very compelling word.
But what if the medical researchers are right? That we should make a concerted effort to drastically trim animal protein from our diet to avoid chronic diseases? The long-term implications for restaurants are, to put it mildly, mind-boggling.