What are some of the criticisms of Gary Taubes

Meat eaters die - vegetarians too!


Comment by Ulrike Gonder

Vegetarianism is "mega-in" right now. This is accompanied by disconcerting meat eater bashing - unfortunately also in the specialist press, as the current discussion about the consumption of red meat shows. Ulrike Gonder finds it wrong: You can eat healthily with and without meat

No, I will not allow myself to be carried away to argue that humans are simply omnivores in terms of their biology and that they can get along very well with a high proportion of animal food. Nor will I argue that some nutrients, such as vitamin B12, which is important for blood formation and nerve function, are only found in significant quantities in animal foods. That is not the point here. It is not about what is proven, what is obvious, reasonable or purely nutritionally proven or appropriate. It's about how compliant facts are generated and how they are dealt with. And that stinks to heaven like rotten meat!

Scare tactics when it comes to (red) meat

Example March 2012 - the scene plays out again and again in one way or another: charred meat sizzles on the grill and the headline, for example South German Online warns of the alleged "consequences of lust for the flesh" [1], as if there were premature death from heart attack and cancer. On too Mirror online[2] and many international media warn that “every additional daily serving of beef, pork or lamb” would “increase the risk of heart attack or cancer”. One of the authors of the underlying study is even quoted as saying that regular meat consumption "contributes significantly to premature death".

The reason for this and similarly absurd reports was the advance publication of a study by Harvard University in the medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine[3]. The Harvard researchers had analyzed the data of around 120,000 men and women from their two large studies, the “Health Professionals Follow-Up Study” and the “Nurses Health Study”, to see whether there was a statistical connection between the consumption of red Meat and overall mortality, as well as mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer. That in itself is not a completely clean science, because the search was obviously not open-ended for influences of diet, but dug into the masses of data for statistical relationships on the consumption of red meat.

From the USA, the red meat of beef, pork, sheep and goat is increasingly being branded as "unhealthy", while the "white" varieties such as fish and poultry are considered healthy or healthier. That this classification remains ambiguous (what about turkeys, for example, which is made up of both dark / red and light / white meat) and that there is no reasonable explanation for the alleged different effects of light and dark types of meat, should only be mentioned in passing .

Back to the Harvard study. They found what they were looking for. According to numerous statistical calculations, the result was as follows: Consuming an additional (!) Portion of red meat or red meat products every day increases the risk of death by 13 or 20 percent. On the other hand, according to the authors' estimates, the risk of death would decrease by 7 to 19 percent if one serving of red meat or meat products were replaced daily with “healthier” sources of protein such as fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products or whole grain products. If we all only ate around 42 g of red meat a day, over 9 percent of deaths in men and just under 8 percent in women could be prevented.

In a comment on the study [4], the lean-food Pope Dean Ornish was allowed to rant that what is good for you is also good for the planet, by which he means of course not eating red meat. There it is again, this attitude, which so self-gloriously reveals the vegetarian, especially since the strict vegan is a better person - politically, ecologically, health-wise, morally. Which could simply still be proven, like the ex-hardcore vegan Lierre Keith in her book The Vegetarian Myth (Myth of Vegetarianism) impressively and calmly describes. [5]

In an esoteric magazine, a comment like Ornish's would not have been surprising - but in the Archives of Internal Medicine, that's a lot of stuff. One wonders whether the editors of medical journals are now giving in to the “holy cow” of vegetarianism. Where is the shipment of goods? Where are the critical questions or a reasonable classification of this study?

Critical voices were not to be read in any of the press releases. There would have been enough starting points to question the study results, or at least the tendentious nature of their presentation. The British nutritionist Zoe Harcombe [6] blogged the following points of criticism, among others:

  • Since this is an observational study, the data initially only allow statements about statistical correlations. It is not permissible to derive a cause-and-effect relationship from this.
  • The absolute risk of death for the participants in both studies was very low. Less than 1 percent of the subjects died each year. With such a low risk, the relative (!) Increase of 13 or 20 percent reported by Harvard is marginal. Tinkering big headlines out of this and making people afraid of eating meat is, according to Harcombe, "science at it's worst" (science of the worst kind).
  • Those study participants who had eaten the most meat did the least exercise, they ate around twice as many calories as the little meat eaters, they smoked more, had high blood pressure and diabetes more often, but lower cholesterol levels. All of these factors may have influenced the risk of death more than red meat consumption. And why didn't they at least discuss the possibility that lower cholesterol levels were a problem?
  • Other important influences on the risk of illness and death, such as the consumption of white bread (hamburgers, sandwiches and hot dogs are the preferred "meat meals" of many Americans), soft drinks, margarine or ketchup were not taken into account. Why not?

The American science journalist Gary Taubes describes the study simply as pseudo-science. [7] The following should also make you think: Because “people” today simply “know” that red meat is unhealthy, health-conscious people in particular eat more poultry and fish. And they smoke less, exercise more. This is exactly what the Harvard study showed. So it is just no proof that it is due to the red meat when someone prematurely blesses the temporal.

It should also be mentioned that relative risk increases in the range of 10 to 20 percent, as published in this study, are considered completely insignificant among scientists. You are certainly not suitable for deriving nutritional recommendations from it. In addition, the risk reduction promised by the authors by replacing red meat with cereals, nuts or poultry is pure theory! A calculation model, nothing more. Only an intervention study could answer the question of whether this effect actually occurs.

When comparing the age-standardized raw data from the Harvard study, it was noticed that the risk of death initially decreases with increasing meat consumption. It only rose again at the second highest or highest consumption. So it could very well be that, unless it is above average, consuming red meat will give American nurses and health professionals longer lives. Yes, that's speculation - just like the headlines this study provoked.