Harvard Says, "Eat Red Meat and Die!"

By Michael Mooney
Updated April, 2013

A study of 37,698 men and 83,644 women over 2.96 million person-years of follow-up coming from some of the world’s top researchers at Harvard University found that eating even small amounts of red meat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and a shorter lifespan.

And it’s shorter with the ending probably not being a happy ending, because maybe you’re dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer or both.

What’s a red meat-eater to do??

Red meat is highly nutritious. Nutritionists regard it as a superior source of protein, as well as vitamins and minerals, and if it is grass-fed beef it contains significant amounts of healthy fats, like the anti-cancer champion of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) fats and heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

However, for one 3-ounce serving of processed red meats per day, like hotdogs and bacon that contain carcinogenic nitrates, the study found a 20% reduction in lifespan.

For one 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meats per day, it found a 13% reduction in lifespan.

As well, it found an 18% increased risk of death for unprocessed red meats and a 21% increased risk of death for processed red meats from cardiovascular disease and a 10% increased risk of death for unprocessed red meats and a 16% increased risk of death for processed meats from cancers.

But would there be different conclusions if the red meat came from roaming red meat animals that ate what they are naturally geared to eat - natural organic grasses and legumes like the cattle that dominate the beef industry in Australia and New Zealand?

Possibly, but that’s not what we get in the USA the majority of the time.

Approximately 95 percent of the time, unless you’re shopping at stores like Whole Foods Market you get tu.

The Role of Genetics
A seminal study in the New England Journal of Medicine called Paleolithic Nutrition said that during certain time periods in various locations around the planet over the last 100,000 years our ancestors consumed as much as 70% of their diets as red meat.

And although there have been vegetarians scattered around the planet at various times, typical humans consumed somewhere around an average of 35% of their diets as red meat.

Since we've eaten red meat as a significant part of our diets for so long, aren’t we naturally geared to be healthy eating it?

The answer is YES.

The reason the Harvard study arrived at the conclusion that consumption of even small amounts of red meat increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and a shorter lifespan is because approximately 95 percent of the red meat eaten in the USA, which is what the study looked at, is tremendously different and nutritionally inferior compared to meat from cattle that roam in pastures feeding on organic grasses and legumes, their natural foods.

Grass-Fed Beef Versus Corn-Fed Beef
(Much of the information from this point on comes from the diligent research of Jo Robinson and her website www.eatwild.com. The comprehensive information she presents made the Harvard Study make sense. Information gleaned from her website is noted below with an asterisk, with her charts also acknowledged. What follows is only a part of the information on her site, as there is considerably more highly recommended information.)

The standard for quickest growth for the dollar in the US beef industry is to fatten the animals before slaughter by feeding them the richest sources of carbohydrate calories available, which is mostly corn with some soy. Loaded with carbohydrate calories the animals put on hundreds of pounds while also being semi-immobilized so they don’t burn up calories in feedlots full of shoulder-to-shoulder cattle.

An older method that’s standard in other countries, like Australia, New Zealand, France, Holland and Argentina is to raise the animals roaming in pastures, eating natural organic grasses and legumes.

These differences completely change the amounts and the balances of the fats and nutrients their meats (and dairy) contain.

For instance, grain-fed beef contains about twice as much saturated fat (lard) as grass-fed beef.*

Even the leaner “healthier” cuts of grain-fed beef aren’t as lean. Not to fuel the notion that saturated fat itself is bad nutrition, but there is such thing as too much and there are specific saturated fats that are known to increase cardiovascular risk factors, like palmitic acid and myristic acid, which are found in greater quantities in grain-feed beef.

Furthermore, and this is important, the fat of roaming grass-fed red meat animals contains about 4% omega-3 fats, while corn-fed beef contains almost undetectable amounts of this important “heart-and-brain-healthy” anti-cancer nutrient. * This is because about 60% of the fats in grasses are omega-3's.*

Grass-fed beef is better for human health than grain-fed beef in at least thirteen different ways.

Compared with grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef is:

  1. Approximately 65% lower in total fat; *
  2. Higher in beta-carotene - which has anti-cancer properties; *
  3. Three to five times higher in the champion anti-cancer fat - (CLA) ("cis-9, trans-11, CLA"); *
  4. Higher in vaccenic acid (which converts to CLA); *
  5. Four times higher in vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol) * - good for cardiovascular health and anti-cancer;
  6. About five times higher in total omega-3 fats * - good for the cardiovascular system, anti-cancer and good for a better mood;
  7. A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84) * - good for cardiovascular health, anti-cancer, better mood and reduced potential for obesity; *
  8. Lower in the specific saturated fats, palmitic acid and myristic acid, that are linked with heart disease;
  9. Contains about four times more anti-cancer selenium, which may also improve mood; *
  10. Lower in trans fats, * which promote cardiovascular disease, cancer and anxiety and depression;
  11. Higher in vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin); *
  12. Higher in calcium and magnesium; *
  13. Higher in vitamin K2, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, while improving bone health.

So you can see why eating grass-fed beef causes the opposite effects of eating corn-fattened beef.

Cancer *
As to the increase in the risk of cancer, conventional corn-fed beef is riddled with hormones, antibiotics, herbicides, pesticides and other carcinogenic chemicals that organic grass-fed, pasture-roaming beef doesn’t contain.

As well, the balance of fats in grain-fed beef, with far less omega-3, more omega-6, more trans fats and less anti-cancer CLA is more likely to promote cancer. Note: there are 28 types of CLA, each having a different set of benefits. Grass-fed beef has higher quantities of the champion anti-cancer CLA called "cis-9, trans-11, CLA." *

Organic Pasture Doubles The CLA Content Over Non-Organic *
Raising dairy cows on fresh pasture instead of a grain-fed diet increases the CLA content of their milk three to five-fold. Now there is evidence that grazing on organic pasture may boost the CLA even further. In a study conducted in Germany, cows raised on organic pasture had almost twice as much CLA as those grazing on a nearby, non-organic farm. More research is needed, but the idea that organic is better is interesting.

Grass-Fed Has More Selenium - A Potent Anti-Cancer Nutrient *
Just as grass-eating cattle have 3 to 5 times more of the anti-cancer champion of the 28 CLA's, organic grass-fed pasture-roaming cattle have about four times more selenium than grain-fed cattle. Eating just three ounces of grass-fed beef can give you over 100 mcg. of selenium as well as giving you 100 less calories per serving.

Obesity *
A 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished steer can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer. If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grassfed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year - without requiring any willpower or change in your eating habits. If everything else in your diet remains constant, you'll lose about six pounds a year. If all Americans switched to grassfed meat, our national epidemic of obesity might diminish.

As well, consuming too much omega-6 fat has been shown to increase the potential for obesity and diabetes. Grain-fed beef contains significantly more omega-6 fats.

E-Coli ?!? *
A study in the March 28th, 2000 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that as many as one out of every three domesticated cattle may play host to the deadliest strain of E. coli bacteria ( 0157:H) This is ten times higher than earlier estimates. Grass-fed cattle don’t share this problem. Feeding cattle their natural diet of grass greatly reduces the risk of disease transmission. Why? First, it keeps the overall bacteria count low, especially when Management Intensive Grazing is employed. Management Intensive Grazing or "MIG" is the practice of shifting livestock from paddock to paddock on a frequent basis to enhance the yield and quality of the pasture. Milk from cows raised under this system was found to be lower in bacterial count than milk from cows raised in standard confinement dairies. Second, it prevents the bacteria from becoming acid resistant. Acid-resistant bacteria are far more likely to survive the acidity of our normal digestive juices and cause disease.

About half (47%) of the grain-fed beef sold
in the USA is contaminated with staphylococcus aureus
(“Staph”), a bacteria linked to a wide range of human

diseases, with 52% of those bacteria found to be
resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.
Chart Supplied Courtesy of www.eatwild.com

Vitamin E. *
The graph below shows vitamin E levels in meat from: 1) feedlot cattle, 2) feedlot cattle given high doses of synthetic vitamin E (1,000 IU per day), and 3) cattle raised on fresh pasture grass with no added supplements. The meat from the pastured cattle is four times higher in vitamin E than the meat from the feedlot cattle and, interestingly, almost twice as high as the meat from the feedlot cattle given synthetic vitamin E supplements. In humans, vitamin E is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer, while also having anti-aging properties. Most Americans are vitamin E deficient.

Data from: Smith, G.C. "Dietary supplementation of vitamin E
to cattle to improve shelf life and case life of beef for domestic
and international markets."
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1171 *
Chart Supplied Courtesy of www.eatwild.com

Indeed, the graph below shows the tremendous difference
in how much vitamin E grain and grass contain.


To learn more, read "Vitamin E Requirements for Protection
of Dairy Cows Against Infections at Parturition."
Chart Supplied Courtesy of www.eatwild.com

Grain-Feeding Reduces Beta Carotene by 97% *

When cattle raised on pasture are taken into feedlots to fatten-up on corn and soy the beta carotene in their meat begins to diminish quickly, with almost none left after about a month.


Data from: Short-term Grain Feeding and its Effect on Carcass and Meat Quality.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Grasslands Association 1997. 57:275-277.
Chart Supplied Courtesy of www.eatwild.com

Animals fed on pasture have more omega-3's, whether beef or chicken or pig. Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s. When cattle are taken off omega-3 rich grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on omega-3 poor grain, they begin losing their store of this beneficial fat. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of omega-3s is diminished. The graph below illustrates this steady decline. *

Data from: J Animal Sci (1993) 71(8):2079-88 *
Chart Supplied Courtesy of www.eatwild.com

Grassfed Meat Has A Similar Fat Profile To Wild Game *

When cattle are free to forage on their natural diet of grass, their meat is more like wild game in terms of overall fat content.

Chart Supplied Courtesy of www.eatwild.com

This second graph shows that grain-fed beef has a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than wild game or grass-fed beef. A high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies, depression, obesity, and auto-immune disorders. (Simopoulos and Robinson, The Omega Diet, published by HarperCollins, 1999.) A ratio of four or lower is considered ideal. The ratio in grain-fed beef is more than 14 to 1. In grassfed beef, it is approximately two to one. Another issue is that high omega-6 to omega-3 promotes obesity. *


Data for both graphs comes from G.J. Miller, "Lipids in Wild Ruminant Animals and Steers." J. of Food Quality, 9:331-343, 1986. *
Chart Supplied Courtesy of www.eatwild.com

Grass-Fed Beef Makes a Happier You
March 17, 2012 saw the release of a study from Australia, where the majority of cattle are grass-fed, that showed that women who ate a few servings of beef a week were less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety disorders.

In other words, they were mentally healthier when they consumed the nutrients contained in grass-fed beef.

Logically, it’s the greater amounts of omega-3 fats and perhaps selenium along with lower levels of trans fats, which have been linked with depression, and omega-6 fats that caused this. *

The research attributed the results to the grass diet of most Australian cattle and sheep compared with the grain-based diet of herds and flocks elsewhere. [Such as the USA.]

“Red meat in Australia is a healthy product as it contains high levels of nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids that are important for mental and physical health,” said study leader, associate professor Felice Jacka.

As I said, red meat from grass-fed beef, especially from organically-raised range-roaming animals, has the opposite effect of corn-fed fatty beef.

The Balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats *
There are two types of fats that are essential for your health - omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The typical western diet is overloaded with omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in omega-3s, upsetting a critical balance. Look at the graph below and you will see that fresh pasture has two times more omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids. Grain and soy, on the other hand, have far more omega-6s than omega-3s.

Therefore, when you switch to grassfed products, you are helping to correct the gross imbalance in the western diet. Eating a balanced ratio of essential fatty acids is linked with a lower risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and mental disorders. (To learn more about this essential balance, please read The Omega-3 Connection, by Andrew L. Stoll, MD.)


US Dairy Forage Research Center, 1995 Research Summaries *
Chart Supplied Courtesy of www.eatwild.com

A big question left unanswered in this topic is the increase in global warming that the conventional corn-fed method for raising cattle is known to promote in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's).

According to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) CAFOs in the US causes a more potent relative effect on global warming than automobiles.

It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone's lunch releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.

Two of the gases released by CAFOs, methane and nitrous oxide, have many times more effect on global warming than the carbon dioxide created by automobiles.

For instance, the methane released from CAFO’s is 18 percent of US methane emissions. Methane causes 23 times as much warming effect as carbon dioxide and accounts for 1.4 percent of combined US heat-trapping emissions.

CAFO’s produce another 0.8 percent of US global warming emissions in the form of nitrous oxide, which has about 296 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.

This all adds up when we consider that a typical CAFO has thousands of methane-producing animals standing close together on feedlot dirt that reflects the greenhouse gases upwards into the atmosphere.

Pastures in grass-feeding ranches have the opposite effect that CAFO’s have.

The vegetation that create a pasture removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in photosynthesis and sequesters it in the soil because pastures are natural carbon sinks.

Worthwhile Reading *
For those who want to learn more, The Union of Concerned Scientists provides an overview of how grass-feeding ranches can contribute to reducing global warming in their report "Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the U.S."

And in their report “Raising the Steaks, Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States,” they detail suggestions that ranchers can use to improve the contribution that pastures can have to reduce global warming.

For instance, planting kura clover rather than red clover with grasses increases the average daily weight gain of the cattle by 22% so they come to market faster, which means there will be less methane gas produced.

With some of the science this document contains applied grassy pastures can greatly increase their contribution to reducing global warming.

As well, people are eating less grain-fed beef as time goes by.


The take home message for red meat eaters is:

  1. Try to limit your consumption of red meat if it’s not grass-fed and seek out a source of grass-fed red meat, such as Whole Foods Market or other progressive gourmet or natural food stores. Feel free to eat organic grass-fed beef if you’re a meat eater. It’s loaded with nutrients that improve physical strength, cardiovascular health, immune strength and, as the Australian study said, healthy brain chemistry with better mood and reduced anxiety;
  2. To counter the potential health risks, if you choose to eat some corn-fed red meat, it is suggested that you take a strong multivitamin, rather than an ordinary low-potency one-daily multivitamin. You might add a few nutrients that help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, such as omega-3 fish oil (3,000 mg net EPA+DHA/day), vitamin D (2,000+ IU/day), CoQ10 (100+ mg/day), selenium (200 mcg/day) and vitamin C (3,000+ mg/day);
  3. Ask for organic grass-fed beef where you shop. Consumer requests can change the marketplace. The United States grass-fed beef industry has grown from $2 million in 1998 to over $380 million in 2010. This fast-growing industry, while still in its infancy grew to $2.5 billion dollars in 2012. If you like eating red meat you can help the marketplace change for your better health by asking for what you want;
  4. Substituting grass-fed beef for grain-fed beef is one more thing you can do to help reduce global warming.

While switching to grass-fed beef will improve your long-term health outcome, plants as food will also powerfully increase your longevity, in good health.

So don't forget to eat your fruits and vegetables, the more, the better!

Recommendation: Visit www.eatwild.com.This article shared only a small amount of the information that is available there.

Update, April, 2013: New Study Says Carnitine In Red Meat Causes Cardiovascular Disease - It's Wrong

A study, published in the journal Nature Medicine determined that carnitine, found in great quantities in red meat, is metabolized by intestinal bacteria into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), an organic compound that promotes atherosclerosis.

At first look it appeared that this might be another reason that some data show that red meat eaters have more cardiovascular disease than vegetarians. (However, the data in this article shows that a more likely cause is grain-fed beef consumption.)

It also found that choline, found in large amounts in eggs and liver caused the same TMAO problem.

While the study looked interesting, it was solidly corrected on the WestonAPrice.org website.

Please see: http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/cmasterjohn/2011/04/13/does-dietary-choline-contribute-to-heart-disease/

Then the notion that carnitine caused cardiovascular disease was corrected by the Alliance For Natural Health, with others concurring.

Please see:  http://www.anh-usa.org/latest-red-meat-study-doubly-flawed/

Then see Life Extension Foundation's write up, by clicking here.

And then see Chris Kresser's take on it at: http://chriskresser.com/red-meat-and-tmao-its-the-gut-not-the-meat

Carnitine remains an important nutrient for long-term heart health.

Choline remain an important nutrient for healthy memory, especially as we age.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is in no way a substitute for the advice of a qualified medical doctor, registered dietitian or certified nutritionist. When you ask any health care professional to help you make decisions about your personal healthcare, I recommend that you show them the information you find here because they may not be aware of it and the scientific studies that support it. Appropriate medical therapy and the use of pharmaceutical or nutritional compounds should be tailored for the individual as no two individuals are alike. I do not recommend self-medicating with any compound as you should consult with a qualified medical doctor, preferably one who is knowledgeable about nutrition and complementary or functional medicine who can determine your individual situation. Any use of the information presented in this publication for personal medical therapy is done strictly at your own risk and no responsibility is implied or intended on the part of the contributing writers, or the publisher.