The Math on Meat

So, what was I saying? Oh, yeah - I'll be back in "midsummer." How did that turn into "late summer?" Blame it on the heat, I guess. But I'm glad to be back with an update on the MM movement and another great recipe. A lot has been happening while I've been lazing around. The governing body for American dietary recommendations (the USDA - also responsible for the promotion of American agricultural products, which became evident) came out with a recommendation that their employees follow MM to help prevent climate change. And then, when agricultural producers came down on them like a ton of bricks, they backed off the recommendation, in effect saying, "don't go meatless, not even one day a week." This despite the concurrent news that researchers were warning that we have to eat less meat to save the planet from climate change and nutritionists were simultaneously coming out in favour of MM for its health benefits. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is strangely out of step with the experts in this case. But there is no such thing as bad publicity, as the saying goes, and the controversy has people talking.

I am a person who relies on the experts for all my commentary - I do love to talk about the latest study, as my regular readers will attest. It seems that there is always a new study that comes out showing that, for instance, each daily serving of red meat increases our risk of premature death by 13%, and the study is talked about in the media for awhile, medical experts are interviewed, late night talk shows make jokes about it and then it becomes a brief bone of contention on twitter and facebook and it's all over and forgotten. I feel like people become inured to health information when it comes in this form. I think there is a tendency to say to yourself, "Oh, sure, well, 13% chance of dying early, but I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Why should I change? I've always eaten this way." 

And maybe we could dismiss any ONE of these studies, but by itself, one study is not the whole picture. We have to think about this as a cumulative impression as each new study fills in another piece of the puzzle. So let's add up all the studies I've referenced (and a few more besides) and see what "The Math on Meat" has to tell us.

The Bad Math
  1. 13% - increased risk of premature death from eating one daily serving of red meat (size of a deck of cards)
  2. 20% - increased risk of colorectal cancers for the highest consumers of processed meats
  3. 16% - increased risk of lung cancer for the highest consumers of processed meats
  4. 19% - increased risk of pancreatic cancer from a daily serving of 50g of processed meat (one sausage)
  5. 22% - increased risk of ischemic stroke from a daily serving of 3oz of red meat (the American average)
  6. 81% - increased risk of death from prostate cancer from eating more than 2.5 eggs a week
  7. 19% - increased risk of kidney cancer in adults who ate the most red meat versus the least
  8. 20% - increased risk of diabetes with each daily serving of red meat (4oz)
  9. 210% - total increased risks associated with meat consumption

The Good Math

  1. 50% - decreased risk of heart attacks for genetically predisposed people who ate the most raw fruits and vegetables
  2. 20% - decreased risk of breast cancer in women who ate a vegetable-rich diet
  3. 36% - decreased risk in recurrence of breast cancer in survivors who ate the most soy isoflavones versus the least
  4. 12% - decreased risk of all forms of cancer in vegetarians versus meat eaters
  5. 50% - decreased risk of colon cancer for people eating beans, peas or lentils at least twice per week
  6. 17% - decreased risk of breast cancer from eating at least one serving of cruciferous vegetables per week
  7. 29% - decreased risk of coronary heart disease in the highest consumers of dietary fiber from whole grains
  8. 22% - decreased risk of dying from ischemic heart disease from higher fruit and vegetable intake (8 daily servings)
  9. 236% - total decreased risks associated with plant consumption

FAQs (Flippantly Averted Queriosities)

1. That's not really how statistics work, Mark. You can't just add things up like that.

Sorry, that's not a question.

2. Aren't these studies demonstrative of correlation rather than causation as a rule?

Yes, but pretty strong correlations, right? 

3. You chose which studies to look at, so isn't it also possible that selection bias is at work here?

That's enough questions for now. Let's move on.

However you put this information together, you can see the two options pulling away from each other in opposite directions. One is moving us the wrong way and the other in the right one. The difference between the two totals, 446%, gives us 100% certainty four times over (rounded to the nearest certainty, which is very scientifical). The Math is telling us that Meat consumption leads to a lot shorter lifetime - time with our families given away to satisfy what is simply a habit, a taste for something we grew up eating. And the odds of getting hit by a bus? About 1 in 700 (less than .2%). 

Given all this cumulative evidence, one might be tempted to conclude that eating meat is about as essential to our health as birthday cake, and if we're not giving it up altogether, we should plan to eat it about as often. One might also be tempted to pass on this carefully tabulated "mathemeatical" summary to friends or family members who are possibly quizzing one about "whiya botha with this Meatless Monday guff, anyhoo?" Please feel free to pass on this crucial, life-saving info to anyone you care about. Maybe a few more people might be convinced to come on board the MM bandwagon (15% less meat is a good start, anyway).

I should also mention that this is something many people are surprised not to be hearing more about from their doctors. Many doctors avoid pushing their patients on the benefits of eating "plants vs. animals" because they believe that people aren't willing to change their habits for their health and that they will prefer surgery or a pill. Here are a few doctors (and nutritionists) who are trying to convince their patients it's worth a try.

Another thing that's worth a try is this week's fantastic new plant-based recipe, one we first enjoyed at a vegetarian restaurant in Sorrento, Italy on our vacation. It is an easy late summer salad with a 100% chance of deliciousness. Happy Monday!