Eat More Peppers, Live Longer; Eat More Grilled Meat, Die Sooner

Exploring the absurdities of modern nutritional epidemiology.


Jakub Gojda/Dreamstime

I just happened to come across two newspaper stories this week about the two new nutritional epidemiological studies purporting to find a health correlation between the consumption of two foods: hot peppers and grilled meats. The Washington Post story's headline declared, "Barbecued and smoked meat tied to risk of death from breast cancer." The New York Times article was titled, "Eat Peppers, Live Longer?"

According to the Post, "A higher intake of barbecued, smoked or grilled meat before diagnosis was also associated with 23 percent higher odds of death from all causes, the study found. Of the three cooking options, smoking may be the worst. Routinely eating smoked beef, lamb and pork was tied to a 17 percent greater risk of death from all causes…." The Times reported, "After controlling for age, sex, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and other characteristics, they found that those who reported eating hot peppers had a 13 percent reduced risk for dying early."

What interested me was the difference in the way that the findings were interpreted with regard to how readers might consider changing their diets. In the Reuters story on which the Post article was based, a researcher argues that "the findings suggest women should pay attention to how they cook their food to minimize their exposure to carcinogenic chemicals." In other words, eating less grilled meat might boost your chances of living longer by 23 percent over those who continue to indulge themselves with tasty charred steaks, burgers, and sausages.

On the other hand, when asked if people seeking to live longer should eat more hot peppers, the co-author on that study observed, "The evidence isn't strong enough to make me change my diet." What? Evidently, a 13 percent reduced risk of early mortality is not enough to advise people to chomp on more habaneros.

Here's my point: I suspect that most readers will find the grilled meat story more alarming than the hot pepper one even though the risks of death posed by the nutritional habits studied in each are roughly equivalent. Why? The grilled meat story is framed as a loss whereas the hot pepper one is cast as a gain. Behavioral psychologists have long found that people fear losses more than they anticipate gains.

In any case, the hot pepper guy is entirely right: Don't change your diet based on iffy observational studies like these. With regard to pepper and barbecued meats: I say eat and enjoy both, preferably together.

NEXT: Black Markets and Grassroots Disobedience are Transforming North Korea

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  1. it’s amazing how some of the smartest people I know believe the dumbest shit. A coworker of mine knows his stuff but him and his wife believe in every “alternative” thing you can believe in, alternative medicine, alternative psychology, alternative xyz.

    although both of them are SJW nuts, so maybe they are just against anything white / western

    1. Ya know, considering the sorts of pseudoscientific drivel that makes it into the mainstream (just look above), at this point in time I find I can’t judge people who want to get into “alternative” stuff.

      I mean, fuck, no matter how useless, say, “alternative nutrition guidelines” was, it’d have to be at least as good as what the FDA comes up with.

      1. The FDA’s only job is to make sure that some people selling drugs and some people selling food, do not have any competition. Everything else is just a cover.

    2. A friend of mine was once really into the “raw food diet” fad, to the point that he was eating all his meals at a raw food restaurant near his home. He only moved on to another fad after the owner/chef of the restaurant dropped dead of a heart attack in his early 40s.

    3. You would not believe the number of people who think they’re going to cure glioblastoma–almost literally a mind fuck–with diet, alternative medicine, aroma therapy, etc.

      1. What is the corrective scent for cancer? Something in the sandalwood family?

        1. Heck if I know. They talk about cannabis oil a lot. “They” being the GBM support groups, which include patients and family members.

          1. That would make your house smell terrible.

            1. Then perhaps an essential oil, like eucalyptus?

              1. Isn’t that cat pee?

  2. Remember: health food doesn’t make you live longer, it just makes it seem longer.

  3. Nothing like tasty char-grilled grass fed beef.

    1. I have a 1/4 cow (yearling, grass fed) sitting in my garage freezer. I feel damned wealthy every time I think about it!

    2. What about kale-fed free-range hippies, served with fava beans and a nice chianti?

      *sucks air wetly through teeth*

      1. “Happy hippies come from California.”

  4. OT: Mary Tyler Moore just died, age 80.

    1. /spins in the middle of the boulevard arms in the air.

      1. throws her hat in the freshly dug grave…too soon?

    2. RIP

      Applying this thread to her death, Ed Asner is still with us at 87 and my guess is that he has chowed a few more cheeseburgers and fries and shakes and soft drinks than MTM did.

      1. Considering she was a brittle diabetic for decades and, AFAIK, he’s not, that might just be a relevant factor there.

        1. Doc, of course it is, and I knew that I risked somebody making that point who would gloss over the general, nuance free dichotomy of the fat slob significantly outliving (almost 8 years and counting) the svelte, leggy beauty.

      2. in all fairness, he’s been clinically brain dead since the early seventies…

    3. I guess she’s not going to make it, after all.

      1. But she did take a nothing day and suddenly made it seem all worthwhile………

        You just know that she did because guys like my dad must have creamed in their Haggars over her.

      2. That’s not nice!

        Well done.

    4. Pity and not really that old too. Her and Carol Burnett are reminders that women can be funny without talking about their vaginas.

      1. “…without talking about their vaginas.”

        We will leave that to President Pud!

    5. RIP.

      Chuckles the Clown brought pleasure to millions. The characters he created will be remembered by children and adults alike: Peter Peanut; Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo; Billy Banana; and my particular favorite, Aunt Yoo-Hoo. And not just for the laughter they provided?-there was always some deeper meaning to whatever Chuckles did. Do you remember Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo’s little catchphrase? Remember how, when his arch-rival Se?or Kaboom hit him with a giant cucumber and knocked him down, Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo would always pick himself up, dust himself off, and say, “I hurt my foo-foo?” Life’s a lot like that. From time to time we all fall down and hurt our foo-foos. If only we could deal with it as simply and bravely and honestly as Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo. And what did Chuckles ask in return? Not much. In his own words, “‘A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”

    6. “In a Parade magazine article from March 22, 2009, Moore identified herself as a “libertarian centrist” who watches Fox News.”

      Mary Tyler Moore, Politics

    1. Or Tofu?

      1. you can, but you aint gonna like it, unless you slather it in bar-b-que sauce

        1. Wrap it in bacon.

          I kind of like veggie burger type things, but I always think they would benefit from having a bit of meat in them.

          1. Mmmmm bacon.

          2. Strangely, or perhaps not strangely, I genuinely enjoy veggie burgers (not the soyburger things, the patties made with veg) on top of thick-cut uncured bacon, possibly with a mild cheddar on top. The flavors compliment each other nicely.

            1. *complement

              One means “goes well together” while the other means “has nice things to say about someone.”

              1. I had no idea that there were two different words. The meanings are related enough I assumed they were the same word.

                What do you know, I learned something today.

          3. “Wrap it in bacon.”

            And throw away what’s inside.

    2. Tom Brady does.

    3. Only at a Philadelphia Eagles tailgate.

  5. “I say eat and enjoy both, preferably together.”

    How maniacal of you.

  6. Oh no! Alcohol makes ovarian cancer much more likely!

    *Drinks vodka*

    1. with a spare rib garnish

    2. I always smoke the cigarettes that have the birth defect warnings on them and stay away from the lung cancer ones.

    3. Are you coming out as female, BakedPenguin?

      1. No – see Zeb’s comment. I look for warnings of stuff like uterine cancer because so I can delude myself into thinking there are no consequences to my stupid decisions. Kind of like 97% of American voters.

  7. So if I grill some short ribs in habanero BBQ sauce it all evens out, right?

  8. Giving up meat in order to slightly prolong an existence in which I can’t eat meat seems like a self-defeating proposition to me.

  9. FWIW I used to weigh over 400lbs, but after a strict diet of green tea and coconut oil, I am down to 165lbs. Also, my penis thickened by over two inches!

    1. Need to get on that Bulletproof Green Tea to lose those last few lbs, brah.

    2. but it’s still only 1-1/2 inches long?

      1. kinda like fucking with a hockey puck?

        1. Short and thick does the trick.

    3. Yeh but did you lose hair?

    4. a strict diet of green tea and coconut oil

      Can you imagine what the shits would be like with that diet? This is why Crusty has no friends.

  10. Nine out of every ten meals I eat are cooked on a propane grill. I recently celebrated my 173th birthday. The key to long life? Understanding that dark chocolate is the grossest thing since moldy bread, which is also very gross.

    1. So the chocolate is the part of chocolate you don’t like?

      1. No, he’s probably like me and tastes bitterness more acutely than other people. For example, I can’t imagine why a human being would drink an ESB or 120 Min IPA. I think they both taste like a boiled Brussels sprout scraped out of the Devil’s asshole.

        1. I think it’s more than that. I think these are bitter little people who eat dark chocolate to try to feel that there’s something MORE bitter than their BITTER LITTLE LIVES.

          I don’t mind dark chocolate on things like a Peppermint Patties, though.

          1. I am not little.

          2. Just accept that you are a freak of nature with defective taste.

        2. IPAs DO taste like a boiled Brussels sprout scraped out of the Devil’s asshole. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is delicious.

        3. Of course that’s what it is. And it still means he doesn’t like chocolate. Or chocolate not processed with alkali, anyway.

        4. I think they both taste like a boiled Brussels sprout scraped out of the Devil’s asshole.

          I’m assuming that’s supposed to be a bad thing.

    2. Is the beginning of that last sentence in English? It makes no sense.

    3. Fist of Etiquette = UnCivilServant CONFIRMED.

      1. They’re both Tulpa.

    4. I recently celebrated my 173th birthday.

      And this is in which specieth years, Fistula Harrith-Perry? Your health is atrocious, Fist of Delusion. Hillary will outlive you, you’re so broken down and decrepit. Even, Denial, The Angry Prostate, is looking for new digs since you are so far down the hole.

        1. You smell bad too.

  11. So when I get breast cancer, I’ll know to go on a rampage against Weber.

    1. “Hey Weber, did you see the sunrise this morning?”

      1. I should have figured Terms of Enrampagement was a spoof.

  12. I plan on doing both.

    Also, if there’s a peer reviewed study published today that says peppers are good for you and grilled meat is bad for you, you can be guaranteed there will be another one tomorrow saying that peppers will kill you but grilled meat will make you live longer. That’s not sarcasm.

    1. + 1 replication crisis

    2. Same with coffee/wine/chocolate.

        1. This is starting to sound like a good breakfast.

    3. We need to stop pretending correlation “peer reviewed studies” are science. They’re not. Correlational findings are used to set up hypotheses, not to come to conclusions and make dietary recommendations.

      1. Hypotheses are assumed and then used to set up feelings, and feelings are then used to make dietary recommendations.

        /FDA Approved… SCIENCE!

        1. I think that more accurately describes vegans.

  13. Chomp down on those Ghost Chilis and you’ll only feel like you’re dying faster.

  14. Your length of life is mostly due to your genes. Not much you can do about it. My fraternal grandfather ate a lot of meat, smoked cigars and had a highball or two every night until he was 92. My first father in law didn’t smoke or drink and died in his sleep at 52. People are always looking for magical ways to control things they cant control.

    As for the peppers and beef, eat more of both. That reminds me…it’s been a while since I made stuffed peppers. I will pick some peppers up tonight.

    1. Exactly this.

      Let’s just be honest. Some people can eat a terrible diet, smoke cigarettes and drink hard liquor all day and live to 90, while some people who eat the best diet, have never smoked, are tea totalers, and appear to be in excellent physical health just fall over dead at 55. Seen it too many times.

      Another reason why human subjects trials of drugs vary so much and are so hard to reproduce results of. Too much variables of genes. Everyone reacts somewhat differently to different things. I know people who can drink coffee all fucking day long. More than one cup of it makes me nervous and sick feeling. Seen people who can drink hard liquor all day long and you cannot even tell they are drinking while some people are stupid drunk on 3 beers. Some people get deathly ill from eating peanuts while it doesn’t affect most people at all.

      1. “Tea totalers” – Those whose sole source of water and calories come from tea?

        1. Actually, it’s “teetotaler” from “tee” total, referring to “total” abstinence from alcohol, in contrast to merely not drinking hard liquor.

          1. Not in Hyperion’s post, it isn’t.

  15. Made some smoked St. Louis pork ribs the other day. The next day, the husband went back to the grocery store to pick up a few more racks.

    Even if it kills us all, I will still believe he made the right choice.

    1. “…smoked St. Louis pork ribs…”

      Marinated in the spitoons of Bush Stadium.

    2. St. Louis style ribs are the best.

  16. With regard to pepper and barbecued meats: I say eat and enjoy both, preferably together

    “Ronald Bailey, 63, died today after choking on a ghost pepper.”

    1. These euphemisms!

  17. I eat beef 4-5x a week. And salads with full fat dressings. And drink quite a bit gin too.

    And I look better and thinner than most of the blokes my age. But again – genetics. And weightlifting.

    1. And Morgan Fairchild?

  18. I am shocked and disappointed this thread hasn’t devolved into a war over who has the best BBQ.

    (answer: North Carolina)

    1. That’s because there is no war: Alabama.

      1. Who ever heard of Alabama BBQ? The answer remains North Carolina.

        1. KC.

          The Burnt End Sammich!

          1. Worth dying for.

          2. The best pork comes from eastern North Carolina because vinegar sauce is the shit, while Alabama white sauce is, paradoxically, the best “sauce” if one must contaminate meat with something other than vinegar and red pepper. Texas kills everything when it comes to brisket, which, while arguably not actual barbecue is good enough to be considered part of the discussion. KC-style ribs are, of course, delightful.

          3. ^ I go on semi-annual bbq pilgramiges to various hotspot cities/regions and have concluded that KC does it best, in the overall sense. Every style of que imaginable is done there and done very well.

            1. Oh, and OneOut, if you read this, thanks for the suggestion to try Killen’s.

        2. Your ignorance is no excuse.


      Nah, really, my only fight over barbecue is how to get more. It’s all amazing.

      1. This. Barbecue is awesome. It doesn’t matter how you make it or even what animal you make it out of. Barbecue makes life better and we should all go eat some.

    3. The ribs I make in my crock pot in Brooklyn.

      1. Does that really work? I might have to try it.

        1. I’ve gotten pretty tasty stuff, but of course it’s not gonna be like properly smoked ‘cue. I was just hoping to cause a few aneurysms / end up on a few blocklists.

        2. A pressure cooker doesn’t do a terrible job if time and weather are too much of a bother to do it properly.

    4. You are correct, Kristen.

      More specifically, the correct answer is Western North Carolina.

      1. Seconded. More specifically, Flat Rock.

      2. We had some good barbecue at The Pedalin’ Pig in Banner Elk, NC. With hush puppies as the complementary appetizer.

  19. And I always thought risk of death from all causes was 100%.
    Silly me.

  20. I like my bacon smoked. *takes toke

  21. did they account for the weight and other life style habits of the consumers of the smoked meats.

    that said I’d rather die a few years earlier for the greater enjoyment of my foods

  22. So, if I have more jalapenos AND steak, will my life expectancy remain the same. Also, what if I grill the jalapenos ( Just remember to deseed after grilling. Not doing that converts a mild-mannered jalapeno into a ghost pepper)

  23. Checked out the methodology on the study and it’s what I thought:

    We interviewed a population-based cohort of 1508 women diagnosed with first primary invasive or in situ breast cancer in 1996 and 1997 at baseline and again approximately five years later to assess grilled/barbecued and smoked meat intake.

    They’re correlating women who already have breast cancer with eating smoked meat rather than women who eat smoked meat with women who then develop breast cancer.

    Usually in these types of studies, they take people with a disease and compare it with hundreds of possible risk factors and usually get dozens of hits. Then, they do second studies for each of those dozen hits correlating people with those risk factors with people who later get the disease. Usually most of those second studies show no correlation. Unfortunately, the media likes to report on the dramatic results of the first study and then ignore the follow up studies. This was the case with coffee (which Ron Bailey, to his and Reason‘s credit, followed up on).

    1. Cancer makes BBQ taste better.

  24. So what I’m choosing to take from this is that if I pepper my steaks, I’ll be fine. Done.

    1. As long as you have breast cancer already.

  25. The solution is obviously to eat fajitas — grilled meat served with grilled hot peppers and salsa.

    As others have noted, longevity in humans is amazingly complicated. Six of my eight great-grandparents lived to be 75, and they were all born between 1850 (yes, for reals,) and 1870. My husband’s longest-lived forebear was his grandmother who lived to 90, but the next oldest was his mother at 81. She was a tea-totaling health nut but with the breast cancer gene. (Her father and all three brothers died of prostate cancer.). Being reasonable about diet and exercise and trying not to obsess about this seems to generate few headlines.

  26. My prediction is that this study will change absolutely no one’s behavior. Certainly not mine, as I’d frankly rather die sooner than give up smoked/grilled meat and already eat profound amounts of peppers.

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