© stephencooks.com
Don't be fooled by this delicious looking piece of perfection. This is none other than a pan-seared portion of Satan himself!
Where food science and dietetics are concerned, there has been a major hate-on for red meat in the mainstream media and academia since the 1950s. And when you scrutinize the issue, as I have done, you find that there is no (and has never been) solid reasoning behind it. But, with their constant need to acquire grants or sell headlines, or simply justify their own existence, these people need an enemy. Red meat seems to fit the bill, at the moment. Think of it as the ISIS of your dinner plate.

This all goes back to the ridiculous hubub that started in the 1950s when seemingly clear-headed nutritional scientists decided to ignore all their schooling (and rational thought) to lend their support to really shoddy science "showing" how saturated fat was related to heart disease. I won't go into the nitty-gritty of it here (there are ample expositions of this story already).

The public's perception of red meat never really recovered from that, and the "beat 'em when they're down" media continue to relentlessly take shots at their victim. Pair this ancient knack for blaming scapegoats with the politically-correct trending mythology of the necessity of a "plant-based diet" and you've got the perfect recipe for a 'bad guy' to end all 'bad guys'. Truth be damned: red meat is Hitler (props to Fox News for that one).

© occupyyourlocalmedia.com
Red Meat
Given all this, imagine my complete lack of surprise this Christmas when I learned of yet another "study" whose sole purpose seemed to lie in making everyone petrified of this perfectly healthy and basic component of the human diet. Conveniently timed for release over the holiday season, when most health bloggers and media critics are taking a break from countering the official propaganda, the mass media dutifully plastered their websites with headlines like "Red meat triggers toxic immune reaction which causes cancer, scientists find" or "Why eating red meat raises cancer risk" or - my personal favourite - "Why red meat causes cancer revealed". Blunt, to the point, and the biggest load of BS ever put into print. OK, maybe not the biggest.

The first article, sent to me by a concerned reader, starts off,
"Red meat has been linked to cancer for decades, with research suggesting that eating large amounts of pork, beef or lamb raises the risk of deadly tumours."
And there the clown show begins. You see, right off the bat, this writer has it all hopelessly wrong. Red meat has only been linked to cancer in really terrible studies, conducted by those with an agenda, which the mass media dutifully parrots without looking more deeply into the study, if indeed it even possesses such capability. But, realistically, what else can we expect from today's 'journalists'? To quote Chris Kresser,
In my fantasy world, researchers don't make the most rookie mistake in the book (claiming that correlation is causation) and science reporters actually have a clue how to critically analyze a scientific study, rather than just parroting what they read on the AP newswire. Alas, reality is not so forthcoming.
Back in 1986 there was a Japanese study where the researchers discovered that feeding 'heterocyclic amines' to rats made them develop cancer. These are compounds generated from overcooking meat under high heat. This started the association, repeated so often in our press it has firmly entrenched itself in the collective unconscious, between red meat and cancer. OK, so if you feed rats a large amount of a component found in burnt meat, it gives them cancer. So... don't eat burnt meat, or cut off the burnt parts. No real controversy there. However, since this study was published, some other studies of large populations (epidemiological studies) have tried to back up this connection, suggesting a potential link between meat and cancer. And yet...


Burnt meat - don't eat it. Thanks Science!
Let me state this plainly: no study has ever found a direct cause-and-effect relationship between red meat consumption and cancer. The population studies are far from conclusive and fail that scientific principle everyone should know from high school: "correlation does not equal causation." And besides, there are other ludicrous, confounding factors. These studies serve to sell headlines and bring attention and grant money to the institutions that produce them. They also serve to entrench the current dietary paradigm. Implying intent there gets us into "conspiracy" territory. Let's just call it a convenient artifact.

One of these studies, published back in April 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, touted as the ultimate 'nail in the coffin' for red meat, was thoroughly dismantled by Denise Minger and Robb Wolf. It's worth reading these linked posts to see what kind of bunk has been proliferated on this subject in the past.

Back to the study at hand. Relying on the precedent previously set by the aforementioned terrible science, which amounts to nothing more than a house of cards, this study out from University of California-San Diego starts from the assumption that red meat consumption causes cancer. The mechanism, they say, is something called "Neu5Gc", a type of sugar molecule (glycan) found in most mammals, but not found in humans. It's also found in relatively large concentrations in - you guessed it - red meat. Yes, meat does have a small amount of carbohydrate in it, but it is negligible. But how did the researchers discover this evil substance is the devil-incarnate of the food-chain? (Hold on to your pants, kids...)

The researchers first genetically modified mice to no longer produce Neu5Gc, then they fed those mice massive quantities of the sugar, far beyond anything a human would ever consume in their daily diet. And then - surprise, surprise - the mice got cancer. This obviously implies, leaving no room for doubt, that eating red meat will give you cancer [/sarcasm].

© www.pawelmazur.org
"I iz here to determine what iz allowed on your dinner platez."
The mental gymnastics required to make a leap from that to "red meat causes cancer and we know why" is astounding. First of all, the study is performed on mice, not humans. What's more, it's performed on genetically-modified mice, designed to not produce a substance that is a normal part of their physiology. How can one even begin to compare a human to a genetically-altered mouse and think that what affects one could in any way reflect what would affect another? Did the researchers even consider the idea that the genetic alterations in and of themselves may have a detrimental effect on the mice? At the absolute most, this study could be used to indicate an avenue for further research (although even that's suspect). But instead its erroneous conclusions are spread far and wide, leading the public to believe "red meat'll give yuh cancer - science dun prooved it!"

Next issue - feeding an isolated ingredient in large quantities does not, in any way, reflect how that ingredient interacts with human biology when eaten in its natural food form. As Roger Clemens, DrPH, CFS, CNS, FACN, FIFT, FIAFST, Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy International Center for Regulatory Science (you can tell he knows what he's talking about due to all the letters after his name) stated in an interview with foodinsight.org:
Every food contains at least one compound that may pose a health hazard at some level of intake. When eaten in a typical quantity and with other foods, virtually none of these compounds present a health risk. No studies have implicated Neu5Gc as a potential health risk. It is interesting to note that Neu5Gc antibodies appear to be important for humans to combat a variety of viral infections. There is also evidence that without this unique sugar, there is an increased risk of GI infections among humans.
"Virtually none" should really be qualified here. Through the long and steady research we've been doing at SOTT.net over many years, we've seen the kinds of damage substances like gluten, casein, and other anti-nutrients and plant defences can do to a body. But these things all have something that Neu5Gc doesn't have: evidence of a mechanism paired with real-world confirmation. If someone sensitive to their body's reactions eats gluten, he or she will know about it!

But the idea the good professor has put forward here is worth noting. In some situations, the dose really does equal the poison. Even water, as essential as it is for life, can cause illness and even death at high enough quantities.

Plus, comparing the effects of an isolated substance, taken out of its normal food matrix and refined, can have an effect far greater than it would when taken in naturally. Look at sugar - the negative effect of sugar when it's refined and isolated is quite marked in comparison to when it is found in food, with all its other nutrients and fiber to act as buffers to slow digestion (note: sugar is always bad for you, even if it is a natural component of food, but it's being used here to illustrate a point).

So how much can we trust a study that's looking at the effects of ingesting large quantities of an isolated substance, trying to generalize the effects to ingesting small quantities of that substance found in food? Even if this study was done on healthy humans, the results really wouldn't be worth much beyond "this is what happens when we feed people a whole lot of this stuff. Best not to do that again". A Pulitzer Prize in the making.

Note also that the professor has actually cited a couple of beneficial effects of eating Neu5Gc. Let's just brush that aside, however. If we say "cancer" enough times, none of these benefits should be of any concern.

On the website foodinsight.org, Marcia Greenblum, R.D. compares this study to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Study Evaluation Checklist, a checklist created to objectively determine the veracity of scientific studies by testing their rigor. It's a short link and worth a read (SPOILER ALERT: the results for this study, compared against the points in the questionnaire, are deplorable). But from this link we learn a couple of interesting points.

First off, the issue of conflict of interest: "Two authors of this study are co-founders and advisors to SiaMab Therapeutics, Inc., which holds a license with UC-San Diego technologies related to anti-Neu5Gc antibodies in cancer." It's pretty handy for a company that researches anti-Neu5Gc antibodies to suddenly have a study show up that validates Neu5Gc as a cause of cancer, wouldn't you say? Probably some potential for sweet funding to head their way, no?

Also revealed is that only an estimated 10-30% of glycans (of which Neu5Gc is one) are actually absorbed from food and that the food content of these glycans can vary widely depending on "protein and fat content of the food, cooking methods, heat, and processing." None of this was discussed in the study.

Greenblum's investigation into red meat-cancer studies also points out that the previous studies which touted a link between red meat consumption and cancer also found a link with colon cancer. Leaving aside the previously mentioned lack of credibility of these studies, the current study looked at liver cancer. In other words, they're not even looking in the right direction to follow on previous research. But the headlines all simply state "cancer", leaving it to the reader to fill in the blanks and come to erroneous conclusions.

But possibly the most damning point is in response to the question: "Are the conclusions supported by the data?" Greenblum answers:
No. The broad applications that they [sic] authors make regarding human pathophysiological implications are not valid. There was no justification for suggesting that red meat intake at average American intake levels would pose a similar risk nor any results that consider the impact of other foods or nutrients or food preparation methods.
Boom. She goes on to state that the only way the analysis of the results make sense is "as a one-time measurement of inflammation in response to large doses of a foreign substance in a small population of genetically prepared mice." Now where did I put that Pulitzer again?

© The Guradian
"My New Years Resolution is to eat less red meat so that I can devolve to the brain-state of our simian ancestors."
As was said repeatedly in this piece, studies like this are attention-grabbers, and not much more than that. They serve the interests of the research institutions that put them out and the media who report on them, getting more web hits and Facebook posts. But they're far from harmless because they have a profound influence on those who read them. How many people made New Year's resolutions this year to "eat less red meat"?

Avoiding red meat is one of the worst things you can do for your health. It's usually only spoken of in terms of it being harmful, or at best, innocuous. But it's actually one of the more nutrient-packed components of our diet, especially in terms of fats and fat-soluble nutrients. Think about this - people can and do live indefinitely on meat alone. How nutrient dense must it be to be able to sustain human life on its own?

At the end of the day, the disservice these types of "studies" are doing is beyond calculation. It is, quite simply, spreading lies. The corruption of science has reached such epidemic proportions that you pretty much have a better chance of getting to the truth by believing the exact opposite of what the media is telling you. This is pretty obvious to most with respect to the political sphere, but it's no less true in regards to food and diet. The more these lies are spread, the further the average citizen gets from adopting an ideal diet for human beings, condemning them to continue their completely unnecessary suffering.