Plus—how to separate fact from fiction in the great “steak and eggs” debate
Misconceptions about what constitutes a healthy diet run deep in American medicine.
One look at the American Heart Association’s recommendations will tell you all you need to know about the state of nutritional education in today’s medical schools. It’s a classic case of the blind leading the blind… and they’re running us, as a society, deeper than ever into the throes of an obesity crisis.
Deceptive headlines peddling half-truths and dangerous dietary advice still dominate mainstream health reports. I’ve had to put out at least half a dozen fires with my own patients, just in the past year alone.
But there have been a few wins, too. So let’s dissect some of the biggest controversies from the past year—and then I’ll tell you, once again, how to handle people who insist that a “plant-based” diet is the only healthy way to eat.
Interpreting the latest anti-meat headlines
“Mortality May Increase as Red Meat Consumption Rises.”
That’s an actual headline, reporting on a study that was published in the BMJ—a very reputable journal—last summer. But as usual, the truth is not so cut-and-dried.
Let me start by making one thing clear: This was an observational study. Which means that, even according to the authors themselves, it doesn’t prove that red meat causes higher death risk.
It only shows an association. The actual reason behind that link could come down to any number of things. But I’ll circle back to that in a moment.
For now, I’ll just say that the study’s design should be your first indication that its conclusion isn’t as straightforward as it seems. (Though red meat does make for a convenient target—and mainstream “experts” take full advantage of this, like the bullies they are.)
This research looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, collected between 1986 and 2010. None of the participants had heart disease or cancer when the study started.
But results showed that, over the course of eight years, increases in total red meat consumption of up to 3.5 servings per day were linked with an increase in mortality, among both men and women, by roughly ten percent.1
This is hardly a gigantic increase, for one thing. And it’s not exactly significant, either.
Because here’s the part that really muddies the waters: Decreases in total meat consumption, by the same amount, had no influence on death risk whatsoever. Not exactly what you’d expect if beef was doing the dirty work all by itself…
A red herring, by any standard
Needless to say, this isn’t the first time a study has used red meat as a convenient scapegoat. In the past, it’s been tied to everything from heart disease to diabetes to cancer.
Researchers cite saturated fat, high sodium, preservatives, and potential carcinogens as the reasons behind these connections. But those explanations ignore established facts—and fail to answer at least one key question.
For starters, we already know that saturated fat isn’t the villain it’s been made out to be. In fact, as the recent Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study notoriously concluded, higher intakes of fat—even the saturated kind—actually lowers mortality risk.2
And the sodium myth doesn’t hold up, either. (The actual evidence against sodium is contradictory at best. And some research even suggests that low salt intake increases heart attack and diabetes risk.3)
As for preservatives and carcinogens, tell me this… exactly what kind of red meat were these people eating?
Because unprocessed, organic, free-range, grass-fed and -finished meat doesn’t contain any of these toxins. While conventionally raised, hormone-injected, corn-fed, factory farmed meats contain them in spades.
I’d call that a pretty critical distinction, wouldn’t you?
But trust me, this is far from the only blind spot you’ll find among anti-meat advocates.
The good news is, clear science and common sense are starting to prevail—at least in some medical circles…
A major institution backpedals on meat
The American College of Physicians recently handed down some new guidelines. In fact, they’ve decided that consuming red and processed meat at current levels is safe.4
These new guidelines are based on data from four different reviews that looked at overall mortality, heart health, and cancer risk. And they suggest that most people can eat red meat and processed meat as they usually would without worrying about their health.
Their evaluation featured a dozen randomized, controlled trials. And the panel didn’t uncover any statistically relevant link between curbing meat consumption and reductions in chronic disease.
As such, they concluded there’s no certain evidence supporting the statement that red meat or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. (Something you and I have known all along—in fact, a high-quality cut of meat can actually help to prevent most of those diseases.)
But these authors didn’t even go that far. They simply stated that, if red meat is risky, the risk itself is actually negligible.
Of course, the critics still came out swinging. A spokesperson for the American Cancer Society compared this new advice to giving people permission to ride bikes without helmets. Meanwhile, Harvard researchers dismissed the recommendations as “irresponsible” and picked apart their methodology.
Controversy burned for days, especially once the guideline authors were exposed as having industry ties. (Though show me one who doesn’t and I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.) Granted, having financial or political interests in the research you’re conducting is often a big red flag. But in this instance, the authors weren’t even conducting their own research. They were looking at studies conducted by other researchers. And the results they gathered are the same ones I’ve been sharing with you for years.
Look, I understand that a lot of the research on red meat looks bad—on the surface. And unfortunately, that’s what gets trumpeted in headlines. But even a cursory glance at the details often reveals a failure to account for some pretty critical factors. Like the quality of the meat, for one… and overall carbohydrate intake, for another.
Because let me tell you: I’ve been in practice for almost three decades. And I’ve advocated a high-meat diet that entire time. It’s what I eat myself, and there’s a very good reason for that.
When you eliminate bread and other carbohydrates, triglycerides plummet and HDL (“good) cholesterol skyrockets. Because at the end of the day, it’s sugar—not red meat, or even bacon—that kills. And I’ve witnessed this in action, time and time again, in thousands of patients.
Yet how many times do you see meat lumped in with refined grains and sugar as part of a “Western diet” in supposedly compelling studies?
This is quite possibly the most crucial nutritional distinction you can make. And yet our best scientists can’t seem to put two and two together. It’s sheer idiocy. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t end with red meat, either.
As you may recall, eggs also made their way back into mainstream medicine’s crosshairs. And that cooked up controversy was every bit as ridiculous.
Another egg controversy cracks apart
Let’s cut straight to the nonsense: This stupid study linked eating 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol with a 17 percent higher risk of developing heart disease and an 18 percent higher risk of death from any cause.
And more specifically, it linked eating three to four eggs a week with a 6 percent higher risk of developing heart disease and an 8 percent higher risk of dying from any cause.5
Researchers arrived at these results by analyzing the eating and health patterns of a cross-section of nearly 30,000 U.S. adults over the course of several years. And while they accounted for a number of so-called confounding factors, let me point out the first major problem with their incredibly dubious conclusions: it was an observational study—the least conclusive type of study of all.
The simple fact remains that “observational” studies DO NOT establish cause and effect—only correlation. So by this logic, I could conclude that 100 percent of the participants in this study are compulsive breathers—thereby affirming that breathing is linked to high cholesterol.
I wish I were joking, folks—but I’m dead serious. Correlation is obviously not causation. And while it would be foolish to revise U.S. dietary guidelines based on any one single study, there’s certainly no reason to do so based on this one.
But just wait for it. Because according to the vice chair of the advisory committee in charge of forming those U.S. dietary guidelines, “this is the most comprehensive study we have to date.”
Please—get a grip! If this is really the best we’ve got, then we are in serious trouble. And statements like these are exactly why I tend to ignore anything that comes down from the powers-that-be.
The fact is, I knew this was bound to happen. Everyone should have seen it coming. Why? Because U.S. egg consumption is on the rise. And that means that every last food lobby with a stake in the low-fat lie is now quaking in their boots.
Pasture-raised eggs are perfectly healthy
Another hitch: The dietary information these researchers used came from questionnaires, which are notoriously unreliable. (I quiz my patients about what they ate just the day or two before their visit, and they often can’t remember.)
But believe me, there’s a lot more to criticize here than the flawed and inconclusive design of the study.
Like the fact that our bodies produce 80 percent of our cholesterol, leaving a mere 20 percent to come from the food you eat.
Honestly, this was a closed case. But if you read deeper into this study, it appears as if the researchers want to reopen the debate about dietary cholesterol in general. And you have to wonder why.
(Maybe Big Pharma’s worried that their statin drugs aren’t raking in the dough like they used to. But that’s just one guess among many—you can take your pick.)
All I know is that clearly, something’s amiss. Because all of those other issues aside, this finding is still totally inconsistent with the latest research showing zero association between eggs and heart disease risk.6
In fact, a slew of recent studies show that egg consumption can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.7-9
So if there’s any reasonable explanation whatsoever for this study’s crazy conclusions, it’s that these researchers chose to focus only on the amount of eggs subjects were eating, when, once again, it’s just as important to pay attention to quality.
It’s always better to buy eggs from pastured hens that have not been fed grains of any kind. Because chickens are supposed to eat bugs and worms—not corn, even if it is enriched with the omega-3 fatty acid, EPA.
Eggs boast a perfectly balanced 1:1 ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids to pro-inflammatory omega-6s. But they only have this ratio when the hens that make them are able to roam and forage as I mentioned above.
In contrast, a commercially raised egg delivers up to a 19:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. So you do the math. And then decide if it’s eggs themselves that are somehow flawed… or if the difference lies in how we treat the chickens that lay the eggs. (The answer is pretty clear.)
A heart-smart diet is clean and unprocessed
Our food supply is horribly damaged and dysfunctional—from its herbicide- and pesticide-laden cash crops to its inhumane and unsanitary factory farms. And that is the only reason an otherwise healthful, whole food might harm us. It’s also exactly why I’m so adamant about minding the quality of the meat you eat.
Because here’s the real truth: Red meat from happy grass-fed and -finished cows is rich in essential nutrients, including zinc, B vitamins, and iron, and packed with disease-fighting fatty acids. And it’s way healthier than some heavily processed soy protein tofurkey burger any day of the week.
Plus, eggs from pastured, organic hens that are free to roam and forage are quite possibly the perfect food—loaded with protein and micronutrients tasked with weight management, keeping your eyesight sharp, and maintaining your blood vessels and heart health.
Meanwhile, practically all of the “foods” that Americans eat out of cans, boxes, and bags is bad for them. But heaven forbid we raise more awareness and stop consuming that.
Here are the facts: Any dietary plan with similar principles to my Hamptons or A-List Diets—a Mediterranean-style approach that’s full of fresh, whole foods and free from sugar and ultra-processed garbage—is paramount. (In other words, not the low-fat, low-salt nonsense some “experts” are still pushing.)
The focus should be on healthy fats from sources like olive and macadamia nut oil, nuts, fish, and lean protein from pasture raised and grass-finished meats, eggs, and organic, full-fat dairy. And of course, all of the organic, fresh produce you can get your hands on.
This is really the only truly healthy “plant-based” diet on the planet, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve shouted this advice from the rooftops since I started practicing medicine 30 years ago. And I’ll keep doing it, until mainstream medicine finally let’s go of its dusty—and dangerous—dogma.
- Zheng Y, et al. “Association of changes in red meat consumption with total and cause specific mortality among US women and men: two prospective cohort studies.” BMJ. 2019 Jun 12;365:l2110.
- European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2018. Presented August 28, 2018.
- Mente A, et al. “Associations of urinary sodium excretion with cardiovascular events in individuals with and without hypertension: a pooled analysis of data from four studies.” Lancet. 2016 Jul 30;388(10043):465-75.
- Johnston BC, et al. “Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium.” Ann Intern Med. 2019 Oct 1.
- Zhong VW, et al. “Associations of Dietary Cholesterol or Egg Consumption With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality.” JAMA. 2019 Mar 19;321(11):1081-1095.
- Fuller NR, et al. “Effect of a high-egg diet on cardiometabolic risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) Study—randomized weight-loss and follow-up phase.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Jun 1;107(6):921-931.
- Alexander DD, et al. “Meta-analysis of Egg Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2016 Nov-Dec;35(8):704-716.
- Rong Y, et al. “Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies” BMJ 2013;346:e8539.
- Noerman S, et al. “Metabolic Profiling of High Egg Consumption and the Associated Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Middle-Aged Finnish Men.” Mol Nutr Food Res. 2019 Mar;63(5):e1800605.