Dear Mark: Increased Red Meat, Reduced Carb, Increased Death?

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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. First, what’s the deal with the new Harvard study claiming that eating more red meat increases the death rate? Does it actually prove this? Second, how about the one claiming that reduced carb diets also increase death? Should you worry? And finally, why do I recommend eating locally farmed farmer’s market produce, even if it isn’t organic?

Let’s go:

Hi Mark,

What’s your take on this Harvard study? www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/increasing-red-meat-consumption-linked-with-higher-risk-of-premature-death/

“those who increased their daily servings of red meat over an eight-year period were more likely to die during the subsequent eight years”

It’s total nonsense with very little applicability to MDA readers.

Red meat eaters were more likely to be smokers.

Red meat eaters weighed more.

What else did people change as they added or removed red meat from their diets over the eight years?

The study doesn’t say much.

What we know:

Those who ate more red meat as time wore on also ate more calories per day—roughly 400 more. Those who ate less red meat as time wore on tended to reduce their overall calorie intake.

Those who ate more red meat as time wore on also gained more weight.

The simplistic urge is to assign blame for these changes to the increase in red meat, since that’s what the study is studying and that’s what they keep mentioning throughout the paper. But there are a million other variables that could have caused it, that likely did cause it, because that’s how cause-and-effect works in this world. Or rather, causes-and-effect.

And remember: this wasn’t an interventional study where one group was told to avoid red meat and one group was told to eat more red meat. This was data pulled from two different studies done decades ago, gathered by asking people what they ate on a typical day and then following up with them at a late date to see who died, who got cancer, who gained weight. It wasn’t explicitly about red meat. So, this is a mishmash of remembrances of what some people think they might have eaten, and the researchers from today’s particular paper homed in on the red meat and tuned out everything else.

This isn’t about individual people. These are abstract numbers.

One of the more interesting notes in the discussion section of the paper was this line:

Unprocessed meat consumption was only associated with mortality in the U.S. populations, but not in European or Asian populations.

I’ll be revisiting that line in the near future. For now, though, any ideas what could be going on?

Mark, do low-carb diets increase all-cause mortality? Hearing from lots of people about this latest one…

He’s talking about this one.

This is another piece of nonsense. Instead of studying legitimate low-carb diets like keto, Atkins, or basic Primal Blueprint, it separated people into four tiers of “low-carb” intake.

  • Tier one got 66% of their energy from carbohydrates.
  • Tier two got 57% of energy from carbohydrates.
  • Tier three got 49% of energy from carbohydrates.
  • Tier four—the one with the highest mortality risk—got 39% of energy from carbohydrates.

Now, I could probably hit “send” and stop the post right now. I mean, that about says it all. In what world is 39% of calories from carbohydrates a low-carb diet? How is that the “lowest-carb” diet? Pure madness.

The study also didn’t discuss diet quality. What kind of fats, carbs, and protein are these people eating? What exactly are they omitting and including? How’s their omega-3 intake? They eating mostly chicken, mostly beef, or plants?

All we know, in addition to their macronutrient ratios, is that people in the “low-carb”/39% carb group:

  • Smoked the second most.
  • Ate the least saturated fat.
  • Drank the most alcohol.
  • Exercised the least.

Really what this study is saying is that eating the high-fat, high-carb Standard American Diet will increase your mortality. This is no surprise.

As I’ve said before, you should pick a macronutrient—fat or carbs—to focus on and go with it. Sure, Michael Phelps could eat 10k calories of McDonald’s and maintain optimal performance, body comp, and health because he’s burning through it all, but you’re not him and you’re not training at an Olympic level for five hours a day. Trying to hang out in no-man’s land where you’re kinda high-carb, kinda high-fat is a bad idea for most people. You could make a 39% carb diet “better” by going with Perfect Health Diet principles, sticking to healthy Primal sources of starches and fats, but that doesn’t work for everyone.

You mentioned going to Farmers Markets every week. I would love someone to explain to me the push for buying local and going to Farmers Markets. Every time I hear them mentioned I cringe a little. I certainly understand buying local, and I agree with that, IF the fruits and vegetables are organic. Usually they are not, so I stay away from local and avoid the toxins/pesticides.
I can only assume that those who buy local don’t mind the pesticides, and if they juice, drinking a glass of chemicals.
What am I missing here? I would love to buy local, but sadly it’s rarely organic. I’d rather buy non-local organic.

Have you ever talked to the supposedly non-organic farmers?

In my experience, the vast majority of vendors at the farmers markets are using organic methods even if they aren’t certified. Reason being, organic certification is quite stringent to attain. It’s a multi-year process.

They have to go chemical-free for years. If they’re at year three of the conversion to organic, they can’t advertise “organic” but for all intents and purposes they’re there.

It costs money. Farming is a hard way to make a living. Going legit might represent a big chunk of cash that they can’t quite justify at the moment.

Go to a market, and go frequently. Get to know the people there. Look the farmer in the eyes and ask how they grow. The majority of the ones I’ve met are doing things right. They’re small operations. They’ve got their kids pitching in and helping out. They’re using man/womanpower and precision and know-how. They aren’t flying crop dusters to carpet bomb the entire field with chemicals.

Another (big) advantage of local produce is the freshness. Fruit and vegetables that travel fifty miles after being picked the day before are a world of difference from produce picked last week and shipped halfway across the country (let alone world sometimes).

That’s it for today, folks. If you have any questions or comments about today’s questions and answers, write in down below.

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