Tuesday, April 28, 2009

on my soapbox again: the nytimes and red meat bashing.


The New York Times ran an article yesterday regarding red and processed meat consumption and death rates among Americans. I am pretty sensitive to inflammatory articles such as this. I wish that the approach could have been focused on being a responsible and informed consumer; taking the time to learn about what one puts into their body. Here are the two snippets that make sense to me, though logic should kick in at some point:

To prevent premature deaths related to red and processed meats, Dr. Popkin suggested in an interview that people should eat a hamburger only once or twice a week instead of every day, a small steak once a week instead of every other day, and a hot dog every month and a half instead of once a week.

A question that arises from observational studies like this one is whether meat is in fact a hazard or whether other factors associated with meat-eating are the real culprits in raising death rates. The subjects in the study who ate the most red meat had other less-than-healthful habits. They were more likely to smoke, weigh more for their height, and consume more calories and more total fat and saturated fat. They also ate less fruits, vegetables and fiber; took fewer vitamin supplements; and were less physically active.

Healthful eating should not be a luxury; it is an important part of taking care of one's self, like getting moderate exercise, regular physical exams, or brushing your teeth! If this article assumes that the average red meat-eater blindly sucks down a cheeseburger a day, isn't there a good chance that he will see a headline stating that this routine is not the healthiest choice and switch to the fettuccine alfredo? This switch will reduce red meat consumption but increase his fat and calorie intake and remove any possibility of lettuce, tomato, or onion- perhaps the only vegetable he'll eat that day. Needless to say, this article also did not address the issue of meat quality (i.e. the health benefits of grass fed meats vs. corn fed, hormone and antibiotic-laden vs. natural) or red meat options other than beef (game meats like buffalo, venison, or elk), which play heavily into the cholesterol factor.

If we've learned anything by observing global diets, Europeans are far thinner and have less problems with chronic illness than Americans-- and they eat plenty of the good stuff. The solution does not always have to be to run away from sausage, bacon, or even cured deli-sliced meats. Sure, pre-packaged discount meat products usually contain nitrates, excessive saturated fats, and unbelievable sodium levels, but really, those facts are right on the label! Take the time to learn which brands produce additive-free products and watch for sales and coupons to make them fit your budget-- and then eat them in moderation, a concept that is foreign to many.


  1. I have grown increasingly irritated with these kinds of articles, because they try to warn you with statistics. Sometimes I think what is really lacking is a discussion of some of the cultural pressures that work against healthy living. It might begin with an identification of some of the weird things we might not notice, like our restaurant culture. The big servings, the faster pace, etc. and might include some observations on etiquette. I always imagine that the etiquette in Europe helps to regulate the food consumption. I wouldn't know how to prove this, but the epidemiology doesn't seem to be proving anything much either.

  2. Yes! I think that restaurant culture has a huge influence on health and weight issues. When most people go out to eat, they wolf down three times what they should and run off to do something else; while in other cultures, people spend hours at a restaurant, enjoying little bits of quality, special foods in a relaxing environment. I think that if we took the time to eat mindfully, we would be healthier, feel so much better, and have far lower stress levels. But maybe the latter would be a result of the wine we would drink during our three hour meal :)