Red Meat in Moderation

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My "beef" with a study just released in the Archives of Internal Medicineon the supposed dangers of red meat is not with the study itself, but with the conclusions that we might too easily draw from it.

We are a society that looks for bad guys. Rather than improve our overall diet and exercise more regularly, and live a healthier lifestyle, we look for culprits, health criminals that we can blame.

Cigarettes are an obvious target, and cigarettes deserve our medical scorn. Alcohol too, though in recent years we have been trying to give limited amounts of alcohol a respected place (not entirely successfully) in a healthy lifestyle by pointing to its affects at improving circulation. Red meat, on the other hand, has always been seen as unhealthy, though acceptable in limited amounts.

Now along comes a new study from the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health published in the Archives of Internal Medicinelooking at how half a million men and women ages 50 to 71 showed a modest increase in mortality from cancer, heart disease and other causes associated with high portions of red meat and processed meat.

The study attempted to control important variables such as exercise and overall diet, but in my opinion, it is very limited because of its survey design. It's not prospective or randomized, despite large numbers. Epidemiological survey studies like these are preliminary; they need to be followed up by many vigorous, scientific studies before any firm conclusions are drawn.

Though white meat may be preferable, it is also not clear what may have caused the differences in mortality in the study. It may not be the red meat itself but could be the fat, or the steroids, antibiotics, and other chemicals we regularly pump into our meat.

Remember, red meat contains many essential vitamins, including C, D and B12, and is a major source of iron and protein. It is an important source of nutrition for many who would not or cannot afford to get it any other way. Red meat may be especially important for those who are anemic, and for pregnant women.

The bottom line here - red meat in moderation is still safe, but limit portion size and eat a well-balanced diet whenever possible. You can find the same kind of sage advice on the blog of our knowledgeable dietician, Tanya Zuckerbrot, and in the pages of The Hot Latin Diet, written by our esteemed health editor, Dr. Manny Alvarez.

Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News medical contributor and writes a health column for LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel is the author of "False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear"and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic." Read more at