Decrease Red Meat Consumption

This is not news, health professionals of all sorts have been saying this for a long time.  ABC News features a recent study supporting this.

A relevant footnote near the end of the article though:

“The question is how much of it is the meat and how much is the extra calories,” Brooks said. “Calories per se are a strong determinant for death from cancer and heart disease. This should make us think about our calorie intake.”

Suffice it to say, the average U.S. diet contains too many calories, and too many of the calories we consume come from red meat.  My favorite quote, to be filed under the heading of methinks-thou-dost-protest-too-much is this one:

But the American Meat Institute objected to the conclusion, saying in a statement that the study relied on “notoriously unreliable self-reporting about what was eaten in the preceding five years….”

The article quickly debunks this of course since it’s not true.*

So the question is, how much red meat should we be eating, and does it make sense to simply replace red meat with poultry and fish but east the same amount?  The China Study tries to make the case for zero animal protein.  The problem is, despite the compelling-sounding arguments and data, there are some serious flaws in their analysis.  Plus, it doesn’t make evolutionary sense.  Finally, I have heard of no compelling evidence which suggest that vegans live longer on average than those who eat a modest amount of animal protein, and some evidence that a totally vegan diet is problematic.**

Kevin has said that all the data he has points to 20% of your calories from protein, but it doesn’t matter what form.  With the caveat to avoid a lot of casein (the main villain in The China Study), which is found in milk and milk products.

This gives us an upper bound on total protein (as a function of calories).  But how much from animals and how much from plant matter?  Given that you need to eat most of your calories from a variety of whole plant foods for a host of health reasons, and since some plant foods have protein (including but not limited to nuts, seeds and legumes) it makes sense that if you need to get much less than 20% of your calories from animal protein for the numbers to work out.

How much less?  Who knows.  My guess is somewhere between 5% and 10%.  And if you are looking to make a change in this regard and are worried about your friends laughing at you, just tell them you are a flexitarian, which happens to be the 2003 Word of the Year according to the American Dialect Society.

Now, of course you are eliminating or severely reducing your refined carb and sugar intake, right?  The good news is that if you are eating a majority of your calories from whole plant foods, and you are exercising regularly, you can pretty much eat til you’re full and not count calories.

Oh, and most important, don’t worry about the exact numbers or if you indulge now and then.  Stressing out, now that shit will kill you.

hat tip: Daniel Horowitz



* Why does there have to be two sides to every story?  Sometimes there’s only one side: the truth.  The American Meat Institute is not dedicated to pursuit of science, it’s a lobbying group paid for by the meat industry.  Therefore, there’s no reason they need to weigh in on a news report.

** B-12 deficiency is the most well-known, but there are other issues too.  Remember, you can’t just isolate one aspect of a complex system and hope to accomplish anything.

  • kevindick

    For concreteness, assume a 2000 calorie a day diet. That means you should aim for 100-200 calories of animal protein per day, which is 25 to 50 grams.

    A 1/4 lb beef patty has 28g. 3oz of ham has 29g. A chicken breast has 30g.

    A cup of milk has 8g. 1 cup of yogurt has 8g. An egg has 6g.

    I’d say a typical healthy diet averages one from the first list and one from the second per day. That’s plenty.

    I average 2 from each list but my caloric requirement is 4000 calories.

  • Tiltmom

    I don’t do dairy at all, but my rule for animal protein (and in my case, this means salmon or steak) is a serving “no bigger than a deck of cards” — we can argue whether it’s bridge decks or poker decks another time.