Paleo Diet News: Red Meat Increases Risk of Death! Really?

The Harvard School for Public Health has published a study which supposedly shows that red meat increases the risk of death. So a major source of macronutrients for human beings over the last 10,000 to 2.5 million years increases the risk of death? Why is the human race still here? Shouldn’t we all be dead by now?

Naturally the media is all over this one with reports on ABC News, CNN, Fox News and more (pick your poison). And so is the Paleosphere - people outraged at the suggestion that meat may turn out to be the toxic wasteland described by the study (well not

REALLY - but I love hyperbole). And of course there are those in the Paleo diet world who quickly point out what is wrong with the study. Some really great articles blowing apart the study can be found on,The Free Range Human, and perhaps the best article of all is on Mark’s Daily Apple written by none other than Denise Minger, debunker of the China Study.  Since so much has already been said about this study, I won’t bore you with yet more lengthy reasoning on why the study is probably wrong.

Instead, I will entertain you by posting a rant from one of my favorite chiropractors, Dr. Joe “Fat Then Fit” Leonardi. He follows a Paleo diet and lost a lot of weight doing so. Does he think that red meat increases the risk of death?

Take it away Dr. Joe!



There is no reason to really believe that red meat increases the risk of death. Practice reasonable meat eating habits and you’ll probably live a long time! Add grass fed to the menu. Eat your meat as rare as possible. Reduce processed meats. Have a nice day and don’t be afraid of that T-Bone. Unless you are eating it with barbeque sauce and baked potato!

Any questions?



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12 Responses to Paleo Diet News: Red Meat Increases Risk of Death! Really?

  1. HeatherT March 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Have you read anything by Varki on meat issues?

    I’m not convinced that our Paleo ancestors actually ate a diet based on “red meat”. Shoreline food is a lot easier to get than beef, unless you are a farmer. Populations today that have fish-based diets are healthier than populations that have beef-based diets, in both “modern” and less-modern populations (the Kitavians are healthier than the Aborigines, for instance).

    That said, eating beef is way healthier than eating wheat, which is usually the tradeoff in America. Wheat is probably what triggers a lot of the skeletal and obesity problems, which you don’t see in paleo people likely because they didn’t eat wheat. But if those Paleo people who DID get heart disease or infections because of a mostly-red-meat diet, how would we know? Those things don’t show up much in the skeletal evidence.

    • Lila Solnick March 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      I was going to reply to you in this very vein on your comment on the “Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes” post. It is actually quite clear that we did eat more seafood, shellfish and sea vegetables, since they were/are easier to catch and gather. The nutrient requirements of our brains prove it even more. I, too, am not convinced that red meat was the first or main protein of our Paleo ancestors diet. From what I’ve read people who live on a mainly seafood diet get all the nutrition they need, while those who live away from the shore, hunting game, must have some seafood to make up deficiencies. This whole topic requires an article on it’s own!
      My main objection was actually to the study itself and not the conclusions. We know that the conclusions were likely to be incorrect. I just now posted an article going briefly through Gary Taubes’ response to the study. A very useful exercise!
      Thanks again for sharing Heather! :)

  2. HeatherT March 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    I agree that the epidemiological studies are problematic. It is true that it’s really difficult to isolate one food in a culture, and especially it’s hard to study something that might not show any effect for 20-40 years. And it’s even harder when each of the foods affects the others … which is where I like to look at the long-term effect of “cuisine” rather than this or that food by itself.

    The thing is, the responses to the study aren’t much better … they come across as “beef apologetics”, attacking the methodology. The methodology isn’t great, and sure, low correlations like that raise questions more than give answers. Usually you have to go to a lot of other sources … and experiments … to get a bigger picture. Taubes didn’t give a bigger picture either: he stuck to American-eating beef-eaters, making some assumptions about who was/is eating beef: actually a lot of the big beef eaters are the low-carb people who ARE health conscious. Dr. Joe basically blames carbs that come with the beef, not the beef. Both come across to me as defensive, and did not bring up any of the other issues about beef. Of course, the actual report, esp. as interpreted by talking heads on TV, comes across as sensationalism.

    So if someone tells me that people who eat a lot of oranges have a 20% higher rate of toenail infections, my question would be WHY does that connection show up. Either the “beef is evil” or “beef is wonderful if it’s grass fed” stance is jumping to conclusions, I think, without a lot of other information.

  3. james April 13, 2012 at 7:08 am

    the study says they tested with “unprocessed meat” — does anyone know what that means? Does it mean they allowed assembly-line hormone and antibiotics fed standard american beef?

    • Lila Solnick April 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

      I can’t say specifically what it means, but these types of studies are notorious for using the worst kind of food. I highly doubt that they would be using grass fed beef. So the meat would have been CAFO. Also keep in mind that studies like this are geared for a specific outcome. In other words, they are not true impartial studies. But one thing we do know is that the consumption of grass fed beef does not increase the risk of death, it sustains life!
      Sorry I can’t be more specific. James. Thanks for commenting!

      • HeatherT April 13, 2012 at 11:38 am

        “But one thing we do know is that the consumption of grass fed beef does not increase the risk of death, it sustains life!”

        The “For sure” part bothers me. Seems like the Paleo crowd makes the same mistake as the mainstream diet people: “We KNOW”. I’ve actually been looking for an example of an actual group of people who live off good grassfed beef, and lived long healthy lives. I’ve seen a lot of YOUNGER people who are healthy and happy on grassfed beef, but no older ones. I do know some older people who grew up on farms, and ate mainly their own freezer beef and drank their own cow’s milk … but none of them are having a healthy old age, which is what got me started wondering. I got to know one local farmer in particular, who has about as ideal a life as you can get, but he’s got major arthritis and other health issues. I’d expect at least one of these farm families to have some healthy grandparents around.

        Further, grassfed beef was the norm in the 1800′s and early 1900′s … and the richer folks who actually ate meat all the time, were not very healthy either. Nor were the older skeletons among the Paleo peoples, or the richer Egyptians who could afford meat daily. So what I’m saying is: we shouldn’t “assume” anything, until there is proof. For me, beef isn’t “proved” yet.

        I did find some healthy older farmers, but they were from “the old country” where they had a poultry and fish based diet. There are good examples of healthy people eating fish, eggs, and poultry, or a primarily dairy diet, or even living off whale and seal meat. Where are the healthy beef eaters?

        • james April 13, 2012 at 11:53 am

          These are really good questions — and it makes me really want to see some long-term studies begun that do what the harvard team did, but with real, beef — grass fed, organic. This is obvious, right? A study that says red meat is a negative without separating it from all the additives that happen along the way in the care and feeding of these animals in the US farm system seems just very… shortsighted. That said, I’ve been trying to get ahold of the harvard study — not just the news summaries to see where this beef comes from but, apparently only a JAMA subscription can access it… can anyone out there share a copy — or say more about the protocol?

          • Lila Solnick April 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm

            Sorry James. I don’t know anyone with a copy. But if you read Denise Minger’s article at Mark’s Daily Apple (the link is now fixed - sorry about that), she does a terrific job in dissecting the study.

        • Lila Solnick April 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm

          Hi Heather,

          Thanks for commenting. You’ve made some good points, but it is unlikely that grass fed meat was responsible for ill health in the wealthy. Prior to the 20th century, they were the only ones who could afford to eat highly processed food since the processing was done by hand. They could afford to buy sugar and other luxury foods and depending upon the level of wealth, ate them frequently. That alone is enough for poor health. The Egyptians were also big on eating grain, wealthy or poor. There are toxins in grain and none in beef (unless it’s burnt or over cooked). That alone is enough reason for their ill health. Problem is that there are multiple factors for ill health. While grains are probably a major factor, there must be others as well.

          As far as where are the healthy meat eaters, I have no idea, but they must be out there somewhere! No one I know is very healthy since we’ve all been eating conventional food for so long.


          • HeatherT April 14, 2012 at 1:06 am

            As far as where are the healthy meat eaters, I have no idea, but they must be out there somewhere! No one I know is very healthy since we’ve all been eating conventional food for so long.

            This is pretty much what I’ve been hearing:

            1. Beef must be healthy, it’s just processing that is bad
            2. The wealthy people had bad habits, that was the problem, not the beef.
            3. It was our previous bad habits that were the problem

            What I’m saying is … it’s all speculation. We have zero … zero … evidence that a beef-based diet is healthy. Because, AFAIK, *it has never been tried in known history*. Or, when it is, it is people like the rich people in the last century, or the Egyptians. Or, when it is tried, it has resulted in unhealthy people (which we speculate are unhealthy for other reasons, because we KNOW beef can’t be the problem).

            I don’t KNOW that beef is a problem, either. The evidence either way is highly speculative. The anti-meat people are pointing to “saturated fat” … which I don’t think is an issue, actually. But until I see at least SOME examples of healthy beef eaters, I’m keeping the options open.

            BTW the farmers around here often did grow up on grass-fed beef, because it was cheap for them, and they were born in the era where freezers had been invented. The farmers in Okinawa though, are a whole lot healthier, esp. in old age. Neither the local farmers around here, or the Okinawans, are rich or have great health care, and they likely have similar bad habits (smoking, drinking?). I’m absolutely sure that a younger person, switching from a pizza/hamburger diet to a grass-fed beef diet, is going to be a lot healthier! I’m not sure though, what happens in 20 or 40 years. The issues with mammal meat seem to be the accumulation of both iron and neu5gc in the tissues, which takes decades, and likely isn’t an issue until you are over 40 or so.

            My daughter, FWIW, totally craves MEAT, the bloodier the better. And she does great on it. However, most of my relatives, who also grew up on good meat, have major arthritis. I switched to mainly a fish/egg diet, and the joint swelling went away. At 17, she really does NOT care about any of this, and hey, maybe she doesn’t have to care for another 20 years?

      • james April 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm

        Here is the best answer to all questions that the study generated:

        • Lila Solnick April 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm

          Zoe Harcombe is great. I forgot about her article. Thanks, James, for sharing it with us!