In defense of red meat

I’ve been a bit hard on red meat recently. So, today I’ll play devil’s advocate. Here are three recent studies that indicate that red meat does not appear to be detrimental after adjusting for body mass index (BMI):

Dietary Red and Processed Meat Intake and Markers of Adiposity and Inflammation: The Multiethnic Cohort Study

Associations between red meat intake and biomarkers of inflammation and glucose metabolism in women

The Association of Red Meat Intake with Inflammation and Circulating Intermediate Biomarkers of Type 2 Diabetes Is Mediated by Central Adiposity | British Journal of Nutrition | Cambridge Core

While the authors of all three studies still advise a reduction in red meat consumption, this is arguably an example of just erring on the side of caution. After all, 2/3 of the American population is either overweight or obese, and studies like this show they would experience increased inflammation from regular red meat consumption. However, this raises a really interesting question about people who have a normal body weight and even a high level of physical fitness. These studies seem to indicate that a slim person would fare no worse than people who eat a standard American diet with far less or even no meat in it.
However, such studies do not indicate that the inclusion of meat in the diet would lead to better than average health outcomes. One take on the studies could be that if you really like to eat meat and are OK with living a life that is of average length and morbidity, just keep your body weight down and go for it. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that people who are in excellent physical condition but consume a substantial amount of red meat on top of an otherwise excellent diet centered around a variety of whole plants might actually achieve superior outcomes to people who eat an exclusively plant-based diet.

It’s unclear to me that there is a large enough percentage of the population that has been eating this way for a long enough period of time to make such a study valid.  The only thing that comes immediately to mind is the Seventh-day Adventist study, in which around 50% of the participants were not vegetarians. However, Seventh-day Adventists are so health-conscious generally that it seems unlikely that even this group was comprised of really heavy meat eaters. Unfortunately, we probably won’t know the answer to this question for a couple of decades. In the meantime, there certainly does not seem to be any downside to reducing one’s consumption of red meat.

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