You may have seen the recent headlines proclaiming that eating red meat can reduce your lifespan by 20%. If you read the previous newsletter on hormones, antibiotics and pesticides in meat, it’s not a great leap to imagine that a diet heavy in such foods could have a health impact.

Closer review of the headline reveals that the 20% reduction being broadcast is for a diet heavy in processed meats, such as ham, bologna, salami, hot dogs: typical luncheon meats. We learned in the prior newsletter that these foods also contain sodium nitrate, a proven carcinogen, or cancer-causing ingredient. So 20% doesn’t seem extreme if those are items you consume regularly.

The reduction in lifespan for a diet of unprocessed beef, pork or lamb is actually 13%, according to the study. This category of food choices, however, also includes hamburgers. Given the recent “pink slime” headlines, and the use of ammonia (in the meat in addition to the hormones, antibiotics and pesticides found in these meats), 13% doesn’t seem that bad. And let’s face it: if you are eating hamburgers you are likely also consuming high-fructose corn syrup laden buns and french fries fried in oxidized omega 6 heavy oils, which have health concerns of their own that were not tracked in the survey.

In addition, if you are eating steaks, whether at home or out, they are often grilled to get those burn marks on the skin, a process which results in the creation of carcinogens as well. We’ll talk more about the dangers of grilling and how to do so healthily in a coming newsletter. But for now, you can see that even at the highest level, there are additional considerations that were not evaluated in the study lurking behind this headline.

In addition, the study doesn’t differentiate between the consumption of traditional factory-farmed meats and grass-fed or organic versions. It would not be a stretch to postulate that given all we know about factory farming and the way animals are fed, raised, and slaughtered, the statistics being touted could result purely from the impact of those practices. There could possibly be little or no impact on lifespan if participants ate high-quality grass fed meat instead.

However, we will likely never know that for sure as it would take many years of following a group of informed meat eaters to be able to reach such a conclusion and no such study is likely to occur as the money isn’t there to fund it. Organic or grass fed meat producers are struggling to provide high quality meat and to compete against the costs of large factory farms so they are not sitting on a pile of cash to fund a longitudinal study of this sort. (And it’s clear that factory farms and government agencies have no interest in funding such a study!)

So when I read those numbers and know that they reflect traditional processed, chemically-laden meats, I don’t jump to the same conclusion that red meat is bad and we should eat less: my reaction is simply that processed meat is harmful and we should eat less of that and replace it with organic and grass fed meat instead. And that could be the end of a helpful look at a widely publicized research study headline if we stopped right there. But there’s more.

The first concern is that this is an observational study, not a controlled study. In a controlled study, all variables are fixed except for what researchers want to assess. Then the scientists would explore the impact of making that one change on participants’ health. Controlled studies can make claims regarding the impact of meat because everything else is held the same across the participants’ diet. In this case, there are many food variables that were not tracked in the study that could easily explain the reduction in lifespan.

The second concern is that the food habits are self-reported. It has been shown repeatedly that people tend to over-report good, or what they think they should be eating, and under-report what they think they shouldn’t. Which just reconfirms that we can draw some hypotheses from the study results that can be tested further, but we cannot draw any firm conclusions because the data is likely skewed.

And before you think that automatically means that the self-reporting works to further support the red meat conclusion, it’s not that simple. We do not know the attitudes of survey participants toward meat: some may believe a portion or two a day is good for you because it’s an important protein source and that may cancel out those who under-report because they think meat is bad.

In addition, contrary to what you might think, another study showed that people with “diagnosed medical conditions” such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, high tryglycerides or cholesterol and diabetes tended to over-report the meat that they ate. We do not fully understand why this occurs, but researchers surmise that perhaps people who are more sick pay less attention to their diets and so don’t accurately track their consumption.

Next we have to explore other lifestyle behaviors. The study reveals that the highest percentage of meat eaters were also significantly more likely to smoke, be overweight, be less physically active and not take a multivitamin than those who ate the least amount of meat. These other variables have been shown to correlate to a number of health conditions and cannot be ignored.

The study also showed that the highest meat eaters took in a significantly greater number of calories than the least meat eaters. In fact, there was an 800 calorie gap between the highest and lowest groups. If that is actually accurate, that is an extremely important variance as calorie restriction has been linked to longer lifespan. And if it is not accurate, it’s just another example of why we cannot completely trust studies where people are self-reporting their food intake.

One interesting conclusion the study found related to cholesterol. In the study, the lowest meat eaters had almost twice the cholesterol level of the highest red meat eaters. If you have read my prior article on cholesterol, you understand why: eating cholesterol does not raise your cholesterol. In fact, if you don’t eat enough cholesterol in your diet, your body will step in and overproduce it to compensate, and your cholesterol levels will seem high even though you are actually cholesterol deficient. (More on this to follow: we’ll be looking into cholesterol and heart health in depth in the coming weeks). But the scientists so quick to jump on the bandwagon and chastise red meat didn’t feel compelled to report a sensational headline that eating red meat reduces cholesterol, but yet, that is what the study showed.

Lastly, the study fails to correlate the overall risk of death to the increase during the study time period in absolute numbers. As we saw when we looked at cholesterol drug advertisements in the last newsletter go-round, Lipitor was able to claim a 36% increase because 3 people on a placebo had a heart attack vs. 2 on the drug during the study trial. The overall number is of consequence as well as the increase because the ones taking the drug suffered heavy side effects. (If you missed this article last time, we’ll be covering this topic in greater depth shortly.)

In this study, for example, if 5% would die anyway, and 6% of the heaviest processed lunch meat eaters died, you could claim a 20% increase in death. But the truth is the difference between 5 and 6 people out of 100 may not be great enough to cause you to give up something you love, especially since there are so many other possible contributing factors or direct causes that were not assessed in the study.

Now you can see how misleading headlines can cause a stir in the media but there is more to the story than the sexy headline. Hopefully, this will encourage you to question and to dig deeper into the details around how those attention-grabbing news stories are created. As for me, I will continue to enjoy small amounts of grass fed meat as a good high quality source of protein and necessary (healthy) fat.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!



Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


With all the press lately around pink slime and now the new study about the health impacts of red meat, let’s talk about making better meat choices.

Unless you’re a vegetarian whose health is thriving, you most likely need to pay more attention to your animal protein selections. While it is possible to get everything you need to be healthy purely from plants, it’s difficult to do so. Almost every civilization has included some animal protein in its diet, even if it was only insects and bugs. While most of us do need to consume some animal protein to maintain optimal health, it’s likely that you are eating too much meat in general as well as too much unhealthy meat.

If you haven’t read the books The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, or seen the movie Food, Inc., I strongly encourage you to check them out. I could easily write a book on factory farming and the challenges it poses to our food supply. But I’ll save most of that for another day. However, I do want to tell you a little bit about hormones and antibiotics, as well as pesticides, in meat and why eating them can be bad for your health.

Hold the Hormones

For decades, the meat and dairy industries have been using hormones to help young livestock gain weight faster. More weight means more meat means more profit. A pellet is typically implanted in the animal’s ear that releases hormones, commonly synthetic estrogens and testosterone, throughout its life.

The hormones remain in the animal’s fatty tissue and are present in the meat we eat, albeit in smaller doses than the human body typically produces. But even small amounts of hormones have been shown to have big effects on some body processes. It’s long been known that excess exposure to estrogen increases breast cancer risk and now we know it increases prostate cancer risk too. Hormone-treated meat has been suspected of contributing to early puberty and male breast development.

The European Union has banned all hormones in meat. But there aren’t any studies underway in the U.S. to evaluate hormone safety in meat and milk, so this practice will likely continue. Perhaps if we were not so heavily exposed to estrogenic compounds in our daily environment, this might not be so problematic. But estrogenic compounds are hard to avoid and eating hormone-laden meat just adds to the burden on your body.

Rising Antibiotic Resistance

We know the benefits of taking antibiotics when we have a bacterial illness, but most livestock in the U.S. are fed antibiotics even when they aren’t sick! Antibiotics are primarily used to make animals gain weight. But now researchers are becoming concerned with this practice, as they fear it is giving rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which could pose a serious health risk.

In fact, a number of studies have shown growing resistance to antibiotics, including one in the New England Journal of Medicine that revealed that 84% of the salmonella bacteria found in supermarket ground beef was resistant to some antibiotics. Another study showed that pork that came from animals that had been fed the antibiotic ciprofloxacin led to people catching resistant strains of salmonella. The FDA estimates that 11,000 people caught intestinal illnesses in 1999 from eating antibiotic-resistant bacteria in chicken.

Pesticides: Not Just a Concern with Produce

We hear a lot about pesticides with respect to produce, and they are a concern. But pesticides in our meat supply may pose an even greater danger. You can ingest far more pesticides on a meat-heavy diet than you would from consuming fruits and vegetables. Today’s livestock are not fed a traditional diet, but rather a feed that is loaded with pesticides. (The feed also often contains meat from diseased animals that die before slaughter.)

Pesticides accumulate in the flesh of animals and have been shown to cause cancer, nerve damage, birth defects, and to inhibit the proper absorption of food nutrients. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 90% of fungicides, 60% of herbicides and 30% of insecticides are known carcinogens.

The EPA does set limits on how much pesticide can be used (according to what they deem as safe) and how much is allowed to remain on food. However, the only way to know for sure is to have the food tested, which does not occur today. So it’s really a guess as to how much is left behind and whether that amount of pesticides is “safe” or not. The EPA also states that in certain cases, such as economic loss to farmers, unauthorized pesticides (those known to be unsafe) are knowingly allowed to be used.

Making Better Meat Choices

Thankfully, in most supermarkets today you can find meat labeled as hormone free, antibiotic free and pesticide free, and that’s what I buy. (This does not alleviate all the problems associated with today’s farming practices, but it’s a step in the right direction.)

Because the food supply of the livestock is a big part of the problem, whenever possible, I look for grass-fed meat or chicken raised on something other than vegetarian feed. It can be hard to find, and it can be expensive, but I think it’s worth it. (While you can order grass fed meat online directly from the farms, if you look around, you can find grass-fed ground beef in some grocery stores too. If you are lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s near you, they sell grass fed ground beef for $5.99 a pound and it makes yummy pink-slime-free hamburgers and ground beef dishes). My kids also think it tastes much better; they can tell the difference!

Many people eat too much meat in one meal, so cutting back on portion size is another way to make eating meat more economical and healthy. Meat portions should never be larger than the palm of your hand. (Yes, that does mean those with bigger hands get a slight advantage!) But no one has a hand large enough to accommodate a 16 oz. porterhouse steak: a little meat protein goes a long way.

Another good food swap is to substitute bison for beef. Bison are fed grass instead of grain and are typically not given hormones, antibiotics or pesticides. Bison meat also has very little intramuscular fat, so it is low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol versus beef, pork or chicken. Venison is also a good choice.

Lastly, a comment on luncheon meats. In addition to the concerns already mentioned about hormones, pesticides and antibiotics in the meats, most packaged meats (bacon, salami, ham, pepperoni, hot dogs, etc.) contain nitrates as a preservative. Sodium nitrate is converted into nitrosamines, which are chemicals that can cause cancer.

While nitrosamines can cause virtually any kind of cancer, the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that people eating more processed meat were 50% more likely to develop lower colon cancer. Nitrosamines have also been linked to a 68% higher risk of pancreatic cancer, and increasing consumption of processed meats by 30 grams resulted in a 15% to 38% increase in risk for developing stomach cancer.

Consumption of nitrates has been shown to cause an increase in brain tumors in children and to result in DNA mutations. The food industry calls nitrates a color fixer, as they turn meats bright red and can make old, gray, unattractive meat look healthy and delicious.

But the good news is that most major grocery store chains have some nitrate-free meat in their organic sections and you can find them at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as well. Again, they can cost a little more, but I’d rather see my meat as it really is and skip the cancer risk, especially for my kids, as their developing bodies can handle fewer toxins.

While these changes won’t fix the problems in our food supply, they will help you make healthier meat choices. Becoming an educated consumer and voting with your wallet is a step toward getting better meat options in our stores that are free of hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and nitrates.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!



Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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