Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Monday, 25 May 2009

Should we eat red meat?

We were at a fine party on Thursday, with great friends, conversation and food. But as I watched The Lorax happily swallow one meat ball (called "frikadeller" here) after another, I wasn't sure whether to smile or cringe.

Seated at our table were well-dressed, well-educated people from the rich suburbs around Copenhagen. We had had one interesting scientific conversation after another and then I decided to drop the bomb: "There was a large study recently that showed eating red meat is associated with earlier death."

They all stared "What?" They seemed to think I must have meant it helped prevent death, but just had made a mistake in my Danish. Suggesting to a European that meat is unhealthy is practically illegal (though I am unaware of a specific law prohibiting it).

So what did this study show and is it valid? Thus study was in the March 23, 2009 Issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine and based on an extensive surveys of over half a million people in the US between 51 and 70 years old. There was then a follow up after 10 years to see how many of those people had died and what the cause of death was.

The results were as follows:

who ate the most red meat: 1.31 x as likely to die in the 10 years
who ate the most processed meat: 1.16 x as likely to die
who ate the most white meat: 0.92 x (or a little less) likely to die

who ate the most red meat: 1.36 x as likely to die in the 10 years
who ate the most processed meat: 1.25 x as likely to die
who ate the most white meat: 0.92 x (or a little less) likely to die

(white meat includes fish, chicken and turkey. All other meats fit into either red or processed.)

It wasn't just that people who ate more meat were fatter or less educated or ate more total calories (those and many other variables were controled for). I have spent a lot of time looking through the study and my only critiques are that men who ate the most red meat also had an increased risk of accidental death (perhaps men who eat the most red meat tend to have dangerous jobs?...) and that they did not control for income. So there may be other lifestyle factors or other foods one typically eats with red and processed meats that contributed to the results.

What did I gather from this? Well, we should eat less red and processed meats, but not just because we want our families to live long, healthy lives. But also because the raising of animals for meat and dairy products is stripping the earth of its resources. Production of any animal food requires far more resources than legumes, grains, fruits or vegetables. This contributes to the global food price increases as well as the energy, climate and water crises. Do you know that livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions (which is much more than all transportation emissions combined!)?

Where do I stand on SR's dad enjoying tenderloin on his birthday? The most important thing is our happiness, so enjoy red meat now and then! And I can't tell the wonderful woman who cares for The Lorax during the day to not give him meat. That is certainly not fair. But it is time for a global shift BACK to the rare amount of meat that we used to eat.

Pregnant moms, the "western diet" has been associated with premature birth. So my recommendation to you is to eat a mediterranean diet, but high in fish (which has been shown to prevent premature birth and improve brain function).

What do I eat? A pesco-near vegan diet (I eat dairy from time to time), with probably way to much chocolate, gum and diet soda (I've got my vices, too).

Sorry about the long post! Love to hear your thoughts.

Running Songs of The Day: Valby Bakke by Peter Sommer and All My Little Words by The Magnetic Fields


Abbie said...

Funny that you would post this. I just recently decided to go vegan and have loved it! I feel great, lighter, have lost a little bit of weight (didn't have much to lose), and just all around feel so much healthier. I agree with most everything you wrote though I don't know if the "eat more fish" part with the Med. diet was a typo. I have seen numerous studies say to limit fish while pregnant because of mercury.

I agree that it's almost a taboo subject to talk about (not eating meat or animal products) and so I don't talk about it unless asked. Try reading the China Study. The study shows links between consuming animal products and cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. It's a fascinating read.

If you personally don't want the Bois eating meat I don't see why it's unfair... especially if you gave your nanny a wide variety of other things to eat. My one year old daughter follows my way of eating (my husband does not) and I have told both our families that I want them to do the same for her when we visit.

You're brave for bringing it up. I know I never liked thinking about where the food on my plate came from (knowing full well the abuse and inhumane conditions most animals live in... I grew up in a dairy farming town) but having done research on the health aspects and seeing (and feeling!) the results I don't think I'll ever go back. I have been able to try so many new dishes, full of flavors I didn't know existed! I couldn't recommend it more highly.

Had you asked me a year ago if I would ever be vegan I would have laughed you to scorn. I loved milk, ice cream, cheese and sour cream. But I am vegan now and I'm very happy and feeling great.

Sorry for the novel.

sea legs girl said...


That's so cool you feel so good being vegan.

It wasn't a typo about fish in pregnancy. Greater than 2 servings of fish a week while pregnant has been associated with decreased risk of premature birth and increased scores on cognitive testing. But women should avoid fish with high levels of mercury (e.g., shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish). Some of the best fish to eat while pregnant are light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish (these also are what the American Heart Association recommends).

The woman who cares for the Bois watches 5 other kids at the same time. Would seem unfair to make her cook something special for our precious. She's obviously got enough to deal with.

cherelli said...

Hi, Have you read the China Study? That is quite an interesting read too so far as animal products and links to poor health...I went to a mediterranean diet quite a few years ago (I used to say vegetarian but I eat fish) and I feel much healthier for it. A vice I gave up last year was added sugar - and it is amazing how now I just cannot fathom eating anything sickly sweet like a donut!! That's got to be good too hey? Just started reading your blog last week (actually read almost all of it) and have to say thankyou for persisting with blogging while pregnant (despite some criticism). We are looking to try having kids soon and it is great to know there are people willing to push the "acceptable norms" and prove healthy, FIT pregnancies are possible without turning into a whale. :)

sea legs girl said...

Cool, Cherelli! Thanks so much for your comment.

The China Study (which I had not heard of before you and Abbie mentioned it) seems to have found the same thing as the Arch of Int Med study I talked about (increased cancers and heart disease with meat consumption). The more studies with similar results, hopefully the sooner we see changes in the way the world views meat.

SteveQ said...

The accidental deaths associated with red meat come from: hunting accidents (though Dick Cheney shot someone going for white meat), butchering accidents (dull cleavers make bad gashes), grilling mistakes (gasoline is not starter fluid) and choking.

"The Blue Zones" has a nice description of the vegans of Loma Linda and of the Okinawans and their diet. The Okinawan diet is, along with vegan and mediterranean, the only ones I can endorse.

I rarely eat red meat, but when I do... well, there was the 75 foods on a stick at the State Fair, mostly deep-fried meats.

sea legs girl said...

Okinawa... makes me think of centenarians and, of course, The Karate Kid. Two good reasons to check out the diet. Thanks, Steve.

Danni said...

I fell off the vegetarian wagon because it's hard to be a vegetarian with access to wild game, local yak and bison and all that good stuff. I will be interested to see whether my return to carnivory has any impact on my cholesterol levels.

I am apalled though by things like 20 oz steaks (most of which people end up wasting) and stuff like that. Environmentally and ethically people should really think harder about their consumption habits.

Kate said...

Interesting topic. This year as our New Year's resolution hubby and I gave up eating any meat from a CAFO. So, we have not gone vegan or veggie yet, but all of our meat (with limited cheater exceptions) is from more of what you would think of as old-school farms -- grass fed, free range, etc.
Doing this alone has cut down on our overall meat consumption, for cost and availability reasons (most restaurants don't serve this type of meat in the U.S.)
I'd be curious to see studies differentiating between the type of meat consumed, and by "type" I mean the way the animal was raised and what it ate. My understanding is that grass feed animals produce meat with a different chemistry, if you will (I'm sure that's not quite the right choice of words), that have a different long term affect on humans that consume such meat. Raising this type of animal/meat is also far less damaging to the environment, not to mention that it doesn't cause the antibiotic resistance problems of factory farms.

SteveQ said...

There's a new animated TV show, "The Goode Family" that's all vegan, including the dog! A lot of the humor is watching the dog salivate every time a squirrel (or cat, bird...) passes by.