I Shun Red Meat - Does This Make Me A Weirdo?

For health reasons I have given up eating beef in any and all disguises, at least to the best of my ability. My family thinks I'm somewhat of an oddball for this, and of course they're no help, passing around plates heaving with juicy steaks or ribs slathered in barbecue sauce while the dog and I stare at the table like two bumpkins at a burlesque show.

Am I crazy to avoid this food item? What do the experts say about it?

"Red meat associated with pancreatic cancer"

The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and colleagues conducted a study of more than 61,000 women. The investigators were interested in the possible effects of meat, fish, poultry and egg consumption. During 17 years of follow-up, 172 of these women were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Long-term consumption of red meat was associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, whereas consumption of poultry was linked to a decreased risk.

"Red alert on meat"

Chemical compounds formed while digesting meat have been found to cause DNA to mutate and increase the likelihood of cancerous cells developing. The research, published in Cancer Research journal, found that people who eat large quantities of red or processed meat are more likely to develop cancerous tumours in their bowel.

"Red meat doubles rheumatoid arthritis risk"

Researchers compared 88 rheumatoid arthritis patients, drawn from a research sample of over 25,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 70, with 176 controls. Participants in the study completed a seven-day food diary and were asked about their smoking habits. Results showed those eating the most red meat had twice the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Patients consuming red meat as well as other types of meat had similar higher risk factors. However, higher levels of dietary fats, including saturated fat, did not appear to have an effect.

"Meat May Boost Risk of Stomach Cancer"

Researchers studied more than half a million adults in 10 European countries for nearly 6.5 years. Participants provided information about their diets at the study's start. The vast majority of people didn't develop stomach cancer during the study. However, people who ate meaty diets -- and were infected with a certain bacterium -- were more likely to get a particular type of stomach cancer. Red meats and processed meats stood out, write the researchers.

You get the idea. It's not as if fish, poultry, pork and other non-animal sources of protein are of no help to human nutrition, not to mention the fact that they don't seem to inspire news stories with scary headlines. In the spirit of live and let live, therefore, I ask my beloved family to let me nosh on soy nuts and olives while they chomp down on a burger, to look the other way when I pass over the filet mignon and mix myself up a hearty bowl of oatmeal, to refrain from making unusual sounds if they catch me bringing home a bag of sliced turkey breast.

Beef-haters are people, too, you know. Aren't they?


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I wouldn't say it makes you a weirdo. It's a decision one can make quite rationally: do you expect the integral of your enjoyment of life over your remaining time spent alive to be larger with or without the consumption of beef? It's a similar decision to (picking a couple of arbitrary numbers) choosing between fifty years of life enjoying prime rib in peppercorn sauce, tender filet mignon, and flame-broiled cheeseburgers, or sixty years of smelling such delights all around you without being able to indulge. Naturally, there's a gradient in there, and what would be really interesting would be a program that shows the amount of healthy lifespan one could gain from each increment of behavioral change. (It would need to be interactive-- too many choices one could make would change the effects of the other ones.) For some people, giving up red meat might be absurd, but cutting back to one meal a week as a special treat might be something they could manage that would give significant benefits.

Of course, there are lies, damm lies and statistics.

The obvious problem here is one of counfounding factors; given that the effects mentioned are themselves very small and based on either self reporting or very small samples. People who are more health consious to begin with - i.e. eat more vegtables, don't smoke, excercise, drink less, watch their weight - may also eat less red meat, and may also report less red meat consumption if/when asked.

With sample sizes of less than 100, teasing this out is basically impossible. Which also means that people can publicise those things they don't like to begin with..

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 18 Jul 2006 #permalink

There's also the environmental impacts that raising cattle entails. I haven't eaten the stuff in a decade, so definitely not weird in my opinion. I've never missed it, either.

Let's see...hmmm, an oncologist who doesn't want to suffer from cancer...HOW WEIRD IS THAT! (you should be noticing the dripping sarcasm) Seriously the ones I think are weird are the guys wearing scrubs huddled around the trash can ash trays smoking outside of the hospital. I wonder if they haven't seen graphic accounts of what they are doing to themselves. I gave up red meat for Lent and it was easier than I thought. I never really started back with it because I learned that I just don't care about it. Still, I think cows are the stupidest animals alive and deserve to be eaten.

Read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan (an excellent book) if you want to learn about how beef industry practices are cruel to cattle and result in far less nutritious beef than cows allowed to eat what they were designed to eat - grass, not corn. The book makes the point that the unhealthy aspects of red meat are eliminated when cows aren't fed inappropriate food and packed together, increasing their incidence of disease, requiring the use of antibiotics and medication. Their droppings are then so toxic they can't be used for manure.

You made the right decision. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years.

Whatever floats your boat doc. Frankly, I am sick of hearing people spout off on what I/we as a people should and shouldn't eat/do etc. All things in moderation. If you imbibe in something that has potential harm, a.k.a. "life", then there are risks. Yeah, so? All the hollering about living to 80 or 90? Pshaw! What's the point? If you are a vegan and like it, then go for it. I like my red/iron fortified/protein rich/good for my canine teeth beef/pork/chicken. I don't eat tons of it, and I broil/bake/grill almost exclusively. Will I live longer? Don't know. I'm going to live until I die. What are you going to do???

While you're at it, Doc, please point to the actual stats, like what the actual incidence of pancreatic cancer is among vegans/vegitarians; not the increase in risk, bu the real numbers. Like with your second hand smoke article, you are seriously misrepresenting the findings: they all indicate a small but noticable increase in risk, not a small but noticible increase in cancer.

I, for one, am tired of the use of surrogate endpoints. Which get changed, again and again, to prove whatever anyone wants to prove.

Great Post
How about the raw vegan diet?
Finally a doctor that talks about what you shouldn't eat.
Most doctors I know don't care and just prescribe another pill.
Way to go