Opinion By Nurse Mark
Sigh… here we go again…
The latest academic exercise in statistics massaging and manipulation is all over the news.
Eating “Red Meat” will kill you!
So says the sensation-mongering press, supported and encouraged by Big Agra – who of course would be happy to see us all increase our consumption of wheat, corn, soybeans, potatoes, and other Monsanto-ized, genetically-modified, Roundup-ready staples.
The press is predictably trotting out all the usual vegetarian and vegan diet promoters such as Dean Ornish for their comments, and they are just as predictably chanting with a unified voice “see, we told you so – eating animals is eeeeevil!”
Folks, I need to make a disclaimer here, because this article is going to generate all kinds of hate mail from vegetarians and vegans who will be offended that their beliefs are being questioned: I am not a doctor – and I have never played one on TV. Neither am I a statistician – nor have I ever played one on TV.
I have no personal objection to anyone’s wishes to follow any diet that they want to, for whatever reason they want.
Indeed, I am especially sympathetic to and respectful of those who say they are willing to follow a challenging-to-adhere-to and potentially mal-nutritive diet for “ethical” and “moral” reasons – just as long as they don’t try to impose their ethics and morals on me. I have a little more trouble with those who claim that vegetarian and vegan diets are nutritionally superior – yes, it’s possible to have a nutritionally complete diet that way, but it is tricky and a lot of hard work…
I am getting a little tired though of the constant haranguing by successive groups of “experts” who are using statistically massaged retrospective studies that rely on peoples memories of what they ate some time in years past to try to tell me what I must eat in the future.
Folks, let’s be honest – how many of you can remember exactly what you ate for dinner last Wednesday? I know I sure can’t!
And then to ask people to remember not only what they ate at each meal in months and even years past, but to remember how large each specific serving size was? I sure couldn’t give you an honest answer!
Further, this most recent “study,” titled “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality – Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies” and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine manages to do some additional sleight-of-hand in it’s interpretation and use of “data.”
That “red meat” that they refer to as being so deadly? It turns out that it really isn’t the “red meat” you or I might be thinking of – which would be a nice juicy, grass-fed, free-range, cooked-rare beef steak. Nope, for the purposes of this study, “red meat” includes hamburger, bacon, sausage, salami, bologna, “and other processed meats.”
Now, all those things may be tasty, and they may be distantly related to animal protein (can you say “pink slime” – also in the news recently? Yep, that would probably qualify as “red meat” for this study!) but they are not what I think of as healthy red meat. Further, these other pseudo-meat products are most likely filled with nitrates, nitrites, dyes, food colors, artificial flavors, hormones, antibiotics, and other not-so-healthy chemicals. Do we think this might have skewed their results just a little bit?
Then there is the statistical magic of “controlling for variables” – that is, the researchers acknowledge that there are a whole bunch of things other than diet that can affect a person’s health and longevity – so they employ the statistical sleight-of-hand of “controlling for variables” to make these troublesome things go away and stop getting in the way of the desired study results.
To be fair, the researchers in this study have done what researchers do best – they have solicited and gotten the funding grants that pay their continued salaries, and they have gathered and presented their information in a manner consistent with what those findings were intended to show. Let’s be honest; if you can’t produce work that appeals to those who foot the bills, well, the money dries up and you are out of work – right? If those who pay the bills want results that support their agenda then that is what the results had better support. (What – you thought those people work for free?)
The press, on the other hand, have done what the press does best – that is, to sensationalize the reporting of this information. This is no different that the sensationalist reporting that gave us “Taking vitamins causes early death” articles following another recent “retrospective study” that relied on people’s memories of what vitamins they took in years past. The press know that truth and fairness are boring – and boring doesn’t sell newspapers (or radio or TV ads). So the press sells “excitement” and we get headlines telling us that Red meat will kill you, or Vitamin use causes early death, or Pink Slime is taking over our schools…
Here are my thoughts on this issue:
Be vegetarian or even vegan if you wish – just don’t try to force your beliefs on me because I don’t believe it’s a healthy way to eat.
I’m going to continue to eat a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet, similar to the one that my caveman ancestors probably enjoyed. That means that my meats are going to be just as organically raised and free of hormones and antibiotics as they can possibly be.
Mankind has spent millions of years climbing to the top of the food chain as a carnivore – I’m going to celebrate that by letting herbivores do the hard work of converting all that plant material into a nice, tasty, nutritious steak for me!
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