Disease Causing Killer or Health Food in Disguise?
A balanced approach to a controversial food

Perhaps you’ve been at dinner parties or outdoor barbeques where guests shake their heads in disapproval of the meaty fare being served up.

You hear things like “heart attack on a plate” or “I know this isn’t good for me but . . . “(fill in the blank).

As usual, when it come to food and health, confusion abounds. Neither the scientists who write up the studies nor the journalists who take what the scientists say and turn it into salable news tell the full story.


A recent 10-year study of half a million men and women study published in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine (Volume 169, No. 6 March 23, 2009)concluded:

“Red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality. “


The study raises some questions that should have been asked in the study, but were not. Here are some facts to consider before you decide to banish red meat from your diet.

1) The study is based on the consumption of commercial feedlot product that as we know carries pesticide, antibiotic and hormone residue. So it may not be the meat itself but what’s in the meat that is the problem.

2) Meat products included fast food burger type food products, which often have the fat removed, doctored with chemicals to give them flavor, then reinjected back into the meat.

3) Supermarket feedlot meat product comes from animals raised in conditions that are cruel, nightmarish and unhealthy. Could the appalling conditions under which these unfortunate creatures are raised and slaughtered be the cause of adverse health effects we have yet to imagine? If anything, conditions in the meatpacking may be worse than they were 100 years ago when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle his disturbing expose of the meatpacking industry Chicago. For a sickening no-holds barred update, read the excellent Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (2001), still widely available in book stores and the internet.

4) Stuffing cattle with corn is kind of like feeding humans a diet of M&M’s. The nutrient profile of feedlot meat product is altered by this extreme practice designed to pack on weight at the expense of good nutrition.

5) Public health pronouncements of necessity are designed to apply to populations not individuals. They deal in generalities and demand an unconditional acceptance from the public. Valid exceptions based on individual circumstances that vary from the norm are not allowed.


So here’s a way to think about the dangers of red meat:

If you’re eating commercial supermarket feedlot meat product tainted with pesticide, hormone and antibiotic residue several times a week, you’re asking for trouble.

If you’re regularly eating processed supermarket meat products such as hot dogs, sausage and deli meats loaded with industrial salt laced with cancer causing chemicals such as nitrates, you’re asking for trouble.

The study is right. These chemically altered food products are bad news.

You’re also participating in a global horror show of cruelty to animals that, once you take a close look, beggars the imagination. This must take its toll, too, on humankind.

On the other hand, if you take the trouble to locate a local source of pasture fed beef and then enjoy your favorite cuts once a week, you’ll be doing your health and the health of the planet a big favor.

The nutrient profile of pasture fed beef (also called grass fed) is radically different than the chemically altered supermarket product. Pasture fed beef has a healthier balance of fats and the fats themselves are not laced with the pesticide, antibiotic and hormone residue of the feedlot product. Also, although no scientific proof exists for this, I expect that animals that are humanely raised and slaughtered are better for us, too.


For those of you concerned about your heart, consider this study published ten years ago the Archives of Internal Medicine, another first tier peer reviewed mainstream medical journal, with comments by the lead researcher.

“Comparison of the Effects of Lean Red Meat vs. Lean White Meat on Serum Lipid Levels Among Free-living Persons With Hypocholesterolemia,” was published June 28, 1999 in the (Archives of Internal Medicine June 18, 1999)

“Our study is the largest and longest to provide evidence that the case against lean red meat has been misrepresented. A heart-healthy diet containing up to 6 ounces of lean red meat lowered the risk of heart disease in the study participants, by positively impacting blood cholesterol levels,” says Dr. Michael H. Davidson, M.D., F.A.C.C., Chicago Center for Clinical Research. “For those individuals at-risk for coronary heart disease, consuming lean red meat is not only acceptable, it encourages compliance to a heart-healthy diet.”

Of course various Beef Council spokespeople jumped with joy at this. The take home point for me is that red meat a few times a week from healthy sources as part an overall healthy whole foods diet rich in fruits and veggies is certainly fine for most

Does this mean we should all be eating red meat regularly because it’s good for us? Answer: No. this is unnecessary. There are any number of healthy diets we can choose and not all of them require red meat.

On the other hand, should we fear for our lives every time we take a bite of steak from a grass fed animal raised locally? Of course not. I know plenty of people of who feel better and have more energy when they include red meat in their diet. If you’re such a person, don’t feel guilty. Enjoy your beef.

NOTE: Grilling and cooking meat at high temperatures creates two classes of cancer causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). See the “Ask the Doctor” Q and A section of your June issue of American Country Doctor for more information.

Alan Inglis MD
American Country Doctor

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