Food Freedom

The Latest Fight Over Eating Meat Ignores These 4 Essential Nutrition Truths

Don't let the lack of consensus on nutrition keep you from striving for a better way to eat.


Nutrition researchers and doctors are at each other's throats once again, this time over a recommendation published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that "adults continue to eat their current levels of red and processed meat unless they felt inclined to change them themselves." 

This advice runs contrary to the consensus formed by most American medical organizations and the U.S. government, which says the optimal diet is one low in all kinds of meat and processed foods and higher in most kinds of vegetables, fruits, and grains. 

It's yet another example of the ways that years of bad government diet recommendations, media myths, and disagreement between competing factions in the world of diet and nutrition science have combined to make for an incredibly confusing environment for people who want to eat better, tastier, healthier diets.

The panel of experts that made the red meat recommendation labeled its conclusions as a "weak recommendation" with "low-certainty evidence." You can read the entire package from the American College of Physicians, which publishes the Annals, or just this summary: "We found low- to very low-certainty evidence that diets lower in unprocessed red meat may have little or no effect on the risk for major cardiometabolic outcomes and cancer mortality and incidence."

This conclusion has sparked a fight between two groups that might best be described as "meat agnostics," who believe that moderate meat consumption is not as risky as recently claimed, and "less meaters," who argue that meat consumption does not occur in a vacuum, and—in the industrialized context—is generally bad. If you buy raw animal proteins, cook them yourself, and eat them with mostly greens, rainbow vegetables, and legumes, you probably agree with the new recommendation. If you eat most of your meat out of a can, wrapper, or bucket, you are why people are mad at the new recommendation.  

My own takeaway, as someone who overhauled his diet and successfully lost a lot of weight and brought his blood pressure down to optimal levels, is that this fight does a disservice to people who want to be healthy, or healthier, and feel confused by the daily onslaught of conflicting nutrition research. 

If you are in the latter camp, allow me to share with you my own recommendations for meat, plants, and all things food.  

Most diet advocates are uncompromising zealots. The best diet is the one that works for you.

I have a good friend who lost 100 pounds eating vegan. I lost 90 pounds eating pork chops for breakfast and meat at every meal, lots of vegetables, but almost no grains, pasta, rice, or fruit. Both of us have sustained our weight loss for many years by continuing to eat our respective diets, and both of us have optimal blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and cholesterol panels. Whose advice should you follow? 

The better question is, whose advice do you want to follow? Liking the idea of a diet is a good indicator that you'll at least be able to start it. The next best question is, are you getting the results you wanted, whether it be improved biomarkers, better body composition, or weight loss? The third question is, can you eat this way 90 percent of the time for a long time? 

These are the questions that should inform your quest for the optimal diet. People succeed in improving their physical and mental health, testable biomarkers, and body composition using all kinds of different nutrition plans. I prefer something close to the keto diet, which can be adapted for omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans, but if you dig into the research conducted by the National Weight Control Registry, which surveys Americans who have lost weight and sustained that weight loss, you'll find the keys to success are exercise, intentional and disciplined food choices, and keeping a close eye on their weight. In other words, what food types you eat matters less than how much you eat, how much you exercise, and how disciplined you are about eating and exercising. 

Processed foods are not inherently bad, but they do present a tradeoff.  

The rise of "processed" food that tastes good is both a massive human accomplishment and a double-edged sword. Processed foods, which are basically any food item that has been rendered nonperishable or includes multiple ingredients at the time of purchase, have made life easier by speeding up and simplifying food preparation. "Fortified" processed foods, meanwhile, have made it possible for the poorest people in the developed world to both consume adequate calories each day and get many of the micronutrients previously found only in a balanced diet of perishable meats, fruits, and vegetables.  

However, the proliferation of affordable, nonperishable food has played a major role in the rise of obesity and obesity-related diseases; more so, probably, than any other labor-saving technological development of the last century.

This does not mean processed food is bad, or that it should be banned or taxed out of reach, only that consuming processed foods is a tradeoff. These foods often taste fantastic, yet excessive consumption of processed foods can easily erase whatever benefits they provide through micronutrient fortification and time saved.

Expert consensus is hard to come by and overrated.

That the panelists published by the Annals are now under attack by their peers in medicine is just the latest example of the war over nutrition advice. Many academic nutrition researchers believe their work can save entire populations and are frustrated that they have to compete in a marketplace of ideas that does not elevate their findings over those of their peers, the advice of lay diet experts, and the marketing done by food companies. That the federal government has done such a hamfisted job of recommending the "right" advice and is slow to correct recommendations when consensus changes, is all the more infuriating. 

What's more, popular media reporting on nutrition is often sloppy, sensationalized, and self-contradicting. Just look at the way the Annals recommendation was covered by The Washington Post: The researchers used the terms "weak recommendation" and "low-certainty" while the Post headlined its piece: "A study says full speed ahead on processed and red meat consumption. Nutrition scientists say not so fast." The study did not say "full speed ahead" and its critics did not say "not so fast." Debates in nutrition science are covered this way every single day in America's most respected media outlets. 

The noise around nutrition science should not distract us from the fact that Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other ailments with a lifestyle correlation are, in fact, a major health care expenditure in the U.S. and around the world; and that many humans in the industrialized world who should eat better both can afford to and would likely succeed with the right combination of external motivation and education. 

This is why nutrition researchers are constantly at each other's throats. Each faction wants to have the final say, and for their peers and government to rally behind them. But it is futile to expect a single global nutrition paradigm to exist across varying economies, climates, and cultures, especially in the age of democratized media. 

You're going to die regardless of what or how much you eat, but, on average, junk habits will kill you faster and decrease your quality of life. 

While there is no actual consensus on the optimal ratio of the three macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, proteins), or on how much (if any) animal protein a person should consume each day, there is an actual, honest-to-God consensus against smoking cigarettes, drinking excessive alcohol, not sleeping enough, and consuming a diet made up mostly of processed foods. If you are the kind of person who desires certainty, nutritionists of every persuasion are certain about the above, if nothing else. 

And if you are the kind of person who feels liberated by the possibility that any number of nutritional paradigms can restore your health and improve your quality of life, there is no better time to be alive than today and no better marketplace of ideas than the one we have now. 

NEXT: Brickbats: October 2019

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  1. I bet nutritionists hate you.

  2. Oh man, you’re in trouble now. The FDA is gonna throw yer ass in jail for giving food advice without a license, the cattle association is gonna sue yer ass for promoting pork, and the fruits and veggies are gonna sue yer ass for dissin’ fruit and veggies.

    I hope you got some friends left.

    1. He has one friend; he said nothing about bacon, for or against.
      He must be a good man.

      1. He said he eats “pork chops” for breakfast. *wink* *wink*

      2. Let me simply say that BLTs are — during the fresh tomato season in my garden — the single finest food EVER. I actually eat BTOs, substituting a very thin slice of Onion in place of the traditional lettuce. I do cook the bacon thoroughly and blot out (with paper towels) all the bacon grease that remains. What a BTO does for one’s soul is indescribable … the tomato should be sliced about a half an inch thick. Park’s “Whopper” is my preferred tomato.

        1. Guess what, Johnimo? If it was your belly flesh on that sandwich you wouldn’t so glib about it. Why are you even commenting on an article about nutrition. Only idiots eat bacon. Idiots and cruel idiots. It’s unethical to buy it. It’s also one of the most unhealthy “foods”. It contains sodium nitrite, which adds greatly to you risk of pancreatic cancer. So eat up.

  3. All we know for sure about government issued advice is that it is going to change with the next election, and should be ignored.
    All we know for sure about private study based advice is that the study was funded by someone with an agenda, and should be ignored.
    Listen to your grandma, she knows what’s what.

    1. The human body’s complex and varied reaction to nutrition (and all of the “settled dietary science”) makes me think of climate change. Lots of “settled science” there too, supported by governments, definitely some scientists with agendas (although nobody seems to believe that), and an enormously complex system that is affected by many more factors than carbon dioxide.

    2. Exception: Don’t listen to the grandma in (SPOILER ALERT) Paranormal Activity 3. Also, I hear that after 3 the franchise really went to…where the monster came from in the first place.

      1. (spoiler alert) people aren’t meant to bend that way.

    3. My grandma taught me to drink red wine if you have a stomach upset. White wine for a headache, and a little whisky for the flu.
      I asked her what about drinking water?
      She told me she was NEVER that sick.

    4. “It’s yet another example of the ways that years of bad government diet recommendations, media myths, and disagreement between competing factions in the world of diet and nutrition science have combined to make for an incredibly confusing environment for people who want to eat better, tastier, healthier diets.L

      If you think there are bad government recommendations regarding diet, stay away from climate change, solar panels and windmills. It will make you sick.

  4. I can’t take anything Riggs says here seriously if he won’t cough up his before-and-after BMI. I need that crucial scientific data to know if I can trust the diet he concocted or if he’s just in the pocket of Big Meat.

    1. Big Meat was my nickname in college!

      1. You sure it wasn’t Big Meat Pocket?

        1. Here’s one of THE very most disgusting jokes that I know of…

          Q: What’s the difference between a gay guy, and a fridge?

          A: The fridge doesn’t fart after you pull your meat out!


            WHAT A KNEE SLAPPER!


            1. Orange Man bad?!? He BAD, all right! He SOOO BAD, He be GOOD! He be GREAT! He Make America Great Again!

              We KNOW He can Make America Great Again, because, as a bad-ass businessman, He Made Himself and His Family Great Again! He Pussy Grabber in Chief!

              See The Atlantic article by using the below search-string in quotes:

              “The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet”

              He pussy-grab His creditors in 7 bankruptcies, His illegal sub-human workers ripped off of pay on His building projects, and His “students” in His fake Get-Rich-like-Me reality schools, and so on. So, He has a GREAT record of ripping others off! So SURELY He can rip off other nations, other ethnic groups, etc., in trade wars and border wars, for the benefit of ALL of us!!!
              All Hail to THE Pussy Grabber in Chief!!!

              Most of all, HAIL the Chief, for having revoked karma! What comes around, will no longer go around!!! The Donald has figured out that all of the un-Americans are SOOO stupid, that we can pussy-grab them all day, every day, and they will NEVER think of pussy-grabbing us right back!

              Orange Man Bad-Ass Pussy-Grabber all right!

          2. Dude, seriously. What are you, 5?

    2. I love being in a Big Meat Pocket …

    3. BMI isn’t helpful for an individual – it’s a population number that works for averages. Most NFL running backs/linebackers are BMI-obese – think about that.
      Body fat percentage or lean mass/total mass are the useful metrics, but hard to measure and confusing to journalists – even Riggs inaccurately talks about losing “weight”. Wrong focus.

  5. Annals of Internal Medicine

    I mean, that’s one way to go internal.

  6. While there is no actual consensus on the optimal ratio of the three macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, proteins)

    Um, excuse me. You forgot ethanol.

    1. That’s a mega nutrient.

  7. If everyone treated every bite of food like it was medicine, we’d all live forever.

    1. Claim it is a right and demand other people pay for it via coercive government?

    2. Store it with cotton fluff in a container that is impossible to open?

    3. Ban more than a 5 day supply like it’s an opiate?

  8. Don’t drink nightshade tea, eat death cap mushrooms, or sprinkle your food with arsenic. Get enough fresh food to keep your teeth from falling out. Do not eat a diet consisting of one sort of anything, like corn.
    Otherwise, all nutrition advice is BS.

    1. don’t even eat corn. corn is pig food and fuel.


    2. I love that wonderful almond taste.

  9. Nutritional studies and bunk.

    What this group did was tear apart each study in a systematic way to evaluate for bias, confounding factors, statistical accuracy, and degree of effect claimed. They basically blew away a decade or more of claims that red meat increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular effects, and overall mortality.

  10. the Less meat groups are actually arguing that the pro meat eaters need to take the climate into consideration, they don’t care about our health its all about the climate and control of our lives down to what we eat

  11. We actually do not know that processed foods are causing obesity, it an assumption not proven by anything it just as possible all the Vaccines we take. Note only countries with lots of vaccines are fat. Am I an anti vaccer, we only need four vaccines in the U.S. unless you are going to travel overseas the rest are just money down the toilet

    1. The theory about processed food is that it tastes so damned good that we eat too much of it.

      I say if those nannies want to eat gruel and sawdust for fiber, go for it, you can have mine too.

    2. I sincerely doubt that it’s the vaccines. There are a lot of countries where everyone is vaccinated and they are still skinny.

      It’s more likely simple, straightforward prosperity. When everyone has enough to eat and more, some of us are going to eat more than we should.

      That, and government advice hasn’t always been the best. It almost certainly never will be, either.

      1. “When everyone has enough to eat and more, some of us are going to eat more than we should.”

        And when everyone drives to work, few of us are going to get enough exercise. Europeans take mass transit much more, which means most of them have to walk a ways every day, and that keeps them slimmer and healthier (except for the ones that succumb to the effects of walking in pouring rain, howling blizzards, and scorching heat).

  12. “This advice runs contrary to the consensus formed by most American medical organizations and the U.S. government …”

    These are the same people who told us to stop eating fats, although the evidence they based the advise on was always transparently poor. And so, no-fat Oreos filled the American diet. Researchers were literally shouted down at conferences for suggesting that high fat diets were not a cause of coronary disease, due to this ‘consensus.’ And by the way, most doctors have neither the time nor the inclination to critique medical research – they just do what they’ve been told to do, and move on to the next patient/payday.

    1. I tried to trace the origins of the “fat is bad for you” myth. It appears to have started with Ancel Keys. This is the idiot who “tested” K rations by giving them to troops for only 3 days, while they were performing light duty – and decided that the rations were nutritionally adequate because the men didn’t lose weight. A starvation diet won’t show a weight loss in just three days! And for troops in the field over a long period, K-rations were effectively a starvation diet. A Nazi mole could not have done more to undermine the war effort than Keys.

      So why would anyone take anything this idiot said seriously after the war? I think it was because his bad science bolstered government propaganda. During WWII, the American government tried to encourage people to eat more grain and less meat, because when you feed the grain to cows, chickens, or pigs, you only get back 1/3 or less of the weight of grain in meat. A high-grain diet would leave more food to ship to Great Britain and other hungry areas overseas, and it would allow drafting more farmers and allocating less petroleum for tractor fuel and fertilizer production. So when Keys claimed that the diet government agencies had been recommending actually made people healthier, the agencies were too happy to question his credibility.

      I don’t know whether Keys was incompetent or dishonest, but he sure had a knack for finding what his bosses wanted to hear – and nutritional science didn’t get any better for decades after he retired.

  13. Every silver lining must have a cloud. If you eat healthy long enough, eventually you’ll die of cancer.

    1. The government pushing all-carbohydrate diets for 50 years has ensured that one needn’t live into old age to experience the joys of cancer. And diabetes.

    2. Actually, it was general organ collapse for my grandmother. At 99, she just started shutting down. Not much definable aside from the gall bladder, she just sort of faded out.

      p.s. She did pretty well exactly what she G-D-well pleased for most of those 99 years… maybe that was part of it?

  14. I stick with the four food groups: Beef, Pork, Poultry, and Alcohol.

    1. In college it was beer, pizza, coffee and aspirin

      1. Maine version: starch, sugar, grease and salt.

  15. So that’s a Go on the glazed doughnuts. On it.

  16. Oh look, Reason is on the globalist anti-meat bandwagon. What a huge fucking shocker.

    1. Not even pretending to read. Thou shalt be listed among the paste-eaters.

  17. Anyone want to join in on a conspiracy theory that the feds are putting out a lot of bullshit food advice trying to get us to die sooner and reduce medicare costs?

    1. I heard one rumor that the bad food advice and occasional attempt to ban guns (and the inevitable rush on buying guns) are an effort to fatten us up and make sure we’re well armed for the alien invasion and resulting food shortages that the Government is certain are going to happen soon….

  18. Fuck all you vegans and vegetarians.
    I’m having a steak tonight, and I’m going to cook it rare.

    1. Wow you sure are an example of decency and kindness! I wanna be just like you someday!

  19. I had beans three days in a row. Still farting.

    The really sad part about these “beyond meat” burgers is that we’ve gotten used to such crappy beef burgers that ground up vegetables are just as tasty.

  20. Where can I get me some steak or bacon flavored vape juice? I want to make some progtard heads explode, then have the FDA send a SWAT team to bust down my door

  21. How about just eat a reasonable diet? Eat fruits and veggies, some grains, some meat, decent portions and don’t overeat, easy on the alcohol and sugars. Treat yourself with what you like once in awhile. Get some exercise, get enough sleep. About all you can do.

    1. No, we can’t do that! What do you think we are, omnivores?

      Now, pardon me while I go eat some fried roots and coagulated chicken protein with a side of belly muscle and some fluffy grass seed concoction with tree bark sprinkled on top, washed down with some bovine mammary secretions and drippings from a squashed fruit.

    2. The problem is all the people looking for an excuse not to eat a reasonable diet. They want to pig out on flavored sugar-water, sweetened bread coated with fat and sugar, and heavily salted slabs of pork fat cured with carcinogens. And they’re looking for anything they can misinterpret to read that their drinks, donuts, and bacon isn’t going to kill them.

      For example, take the Atkins diet of a few decades ago, and the way many people seized on it to justify bad habits. Atkins actually recommended eating moderate amounts of _lean_ meat, with a controlled amount of carbohydrates – but someone who wanted to pig out on bacon double cheeseburgers would read that as saying that the only bad part of the burger was the bun! There were people going to McDonalds and requesting a 2,000 calorie burger wrapped in lettuce instead of bread.

  22. “We found low- to very low-certainty evidence that diets lower in unprocessed red meat may have little or no effect on the risk for major cardiometabolic outcomes and cancer mortality and incidence.”

    Such BS.

    There are many problems with meat, and yes, even red meat, regardless of what a group says.

    We KNOW and have know for nearly 100 years that meat is a problem and the more recent times we have learned about the other problems with it, such as issues with IGF-1, inflammatory response, cancer causing compounds that formed during the cooking process, the fact that you are eating whatever sickness or disease that the animals had that are not caught, exogenous source of multiple hormones that our bodies respond to, saturated fat, heme iron (no it isn’t good for you and is very oxidative), bio-accumulation of harmful compounds, antibiotics and extra hormone boosters – whatever the cow or steer ingests you are getting it from them, let alone the environmental impact.

    It takes way more land to feed one beef cow than it does a person. Yes, multiple people can eat the cow but the cow is a highly inefficient way to transfer calories to people.

    People often complain about GMOs – well guess where 90% of the GMO crop goes….to farm animals then you get it.

    1. While some of what you say is undoubtedly true, the issue about GMOs is bogus. There have been no documented studies showing GMO food is bad for you in any way. GMO has meant a huge expansion of the food supply for a lot of people.

    2. Heme iron? You mean Fe2+? What do you suggest, Fe3+? As in, let’s go lick some rust? Do you know what ferritin even is? As far as cooking, raw food can carry illness. Cooking is usually a good idea. Other points you make are useful, as in avoiding animals with added hormones in their diet, as these may affect kids’ growth rates and stimulate hormone-sensitive neoplasia. Spouting off about IGF-1 is not useful. Worried about inflammation? Take a low dose aspirin or ibuprofen daily. My point: Many of the very items you are going on about are the ones that were debunked by the study under discussion, as in they could not withstand rigorous scrutiny. Sorry.

  23. Most diet advocates are uncompromising zealots.

    Still works.

  24. “The best diet is the one that works for you.” – BINGO. This is a key point to start off with. There are certainly universal truths when it comes to human diets (sugary soda isn’t good for anybody), but so much about our individual biologies impact how we process various foods. It’s exciting to see the progress being made in studies related to this topic – when a company cracks the code on effective personalized diets they’ll be worth billions.

  25. “Most diet advocates are uncompromising zealots. The best diet is the one that works for you.”

    Get a food allergy test. You can order one from Life Extension or other places. Eating foods you’re allergic to causes long term inflammation damage to your GI tract – damage you won’t notice until you’re old.

    I’m highly allergic to wheat, gluten, hops, barley, peanuts, buckwheat, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, all beans except green beans. I’m slightly allergic to eggs, both the whites and yolks.

    But meat and dairy products don’t bother me. Oats are fine also. Rice is fine for the allergies but I’m a low carb guy.

    Since I modified my diet several years ago, I’ve stopped farting or needing to.

    1. “I’m highly allergic to wheat, gluten, hops, barley, peanuts, buckwheat, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, all beans except green beans. I’m slightly allergic to eggs, both the whites and yolks.”

      My condolences.

  26. I worked with the elderly for a while and I watched what they ate. It wasn’t organic. It wasn’t GMO-free. They were living so long their bodies were failing. They loved hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. They loved steak. They loved ribs. They loved chicken nuggets. They loved beer and wine. I saw whiskey grandma’s doing their best to dance. I remember one that didn’t eat meat, but it was because of cancer. In remission, but something about the protein feeding the cancer. Not sure if that is true.
    You want to live long? Enjoy things in moderation, but the most important thing is to choose the right parents.

    1. You want to live long? … but the most important thing is to choose the right parents.

      And that is the sad, unfair truth that I have observed also.

      Telomeres rule!

  27. “The Latest Fight Over Eating Meat Ignores These 4 Essential Nutrition Truths”

    1) What you eat is none of their business.

    2) What you eat is none of their GODDAMNED MAMMY-JAMMING business.

    3) If they want to revert to the level of Apes, and live on leaves and such, that’s THEIR business, but they can leave the rest of us out, thanks.

    4) Since successive Government ‘guidelines’ have proved over time to be so much codswallop, why should we believe this new bunch of buttinskis?

    1. Sorry but once you involve the torture of someone else in your food choices, you make it my business. I will do everything I can (which honestly isn’t much except trying to educate you) to stop you. You need to grow up.

  28. Most diet advocates are uncompromising zealots. The best diet is the one that works for you.

    But where’s the fun in that for a full-time nag and busybody?

    Here’s my two truths about food:
    1) I need it to live
    2) Food should taste good, which is entirely a matter of personal choice.
    [(3) Not every diet works for every body. A super low fat diet did NOTHING to reduce me cholesterol, and left me hungry all the time, regardless of how much other stuff I ate. Take that AMA, FDA, USDA, etc. etc.]

  29. As usual, another ignorant and useless article from Reason and lots of stupid brainless comments to go with it. He basically says “food good, eat food.” He doesn’t offer any useful advice. The man eats porkchops ferchrissakes! The proper amount of processed meat to eat is zero. The proper amount of unprocessed meat to eat is zero. The proper amount of eggs to eat is zero and the proper amount of dairy to eat is zero. The proper amount of fruit is eat is plenty and the proper amount of vegetables to eat is plenty. Add in some beans and legumes and you’re good. There is no justification for murdering innocent animals so that you out of shape fat asses can enjoy a temporary sensation of flavor.

    1. Jesus. Speaking of ignorant and useless.

    2. I don’t care what you think is the “proper” amount of meat to eat. You may eat that if you like.

      You can’t “murder” an animal. You can only “murder” a human (and not all killing is murder, in the cases of self-defense and repayment for a murder, a killing is often justified). If you can “murder” animals, then animals can “murder” each other, and all of my cats have been mass murderers (that one cat wiped out an entire species of flightless birds…). Don’t misuse words like that!

      Also, this meat eater eats stuff from the store and deer I’ve killed myself. And I’d bet $1000 I could take you in any bike race!

      Knock off the tribalism. You look like a moron!

    3. Deeb dude

      If humanity has taken your advice before the invention of refrigeration and faster shipping and air travel, all of northern europe and Canada would be depopulated.

      Fruits and vegetables have never been available in sufficient quantities in northern latitudes till late twentieth century. It is only thanks to technology, capitalism and fossil fuels that vegans can actually survive now.

  30. It’s easier to cook raw vegetables and unprocessed meat into a stew using one of the new electric/countertop pressure cookers like the Instant Pot. Just cut them into chunks and add water. (I use a stick blender to blend in spices and to convert them into smaller pieces afterwards.) I cook several meals at once and put the excess in the fridge.

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