The Harvard School of Health/Department of Nutrition should have been embarrassed by the debunking of its most recent study on red meat and diabetes — if anyone was still paying attention. The splashy headline that red meat increases the risk of diabetes, followed by the media’s sprint to the next sensation, is the archetype of satirist Jonathan Swift’s quote: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
The truth in this case is also up against Brandolini’s law: The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than what was required to produce it.
In summary, the Harvard report was based on an epidemiological study, meaning that the findings were taken from questionnaires. Questionnaires are notoriously unreliable, and this kind of data makes it impossible to separate out the effect of red meat from the bun, the French fries, the sugar-laden ketchup, and the dessert. The study’s authors also went on to recommend replacing meat with “healthy plant based protein sources” without disclosing their conflicts of interest and sources of funding.
I am traveling for work this week, and I brought a pill organizer that I stocked with supplements. When I’m removed from my homemade diet of raw milk, eggs, oysters, and grass-fed organ meat, I’ll turn to capsules and tablets to try and make up the difference. The problem with a supplement-based approach to wellness, just like a plant-based plan for protein, is that the actual bioavailability is low. Your body is designed to strip out the nutrition it needs from animal products, but it doesn’t know what to make of powder stuffed into a capsule, or pea protein manufactured in a lab. The amino acids in whole foods like beans and lentils are also poorly absorbed.
One place you see this lesson taught repeatedly is in elite sports. A professional athlete goes woo-woo, decides to become a vegan, and sees his career rapidly decline.
NFL quarterbacks Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick are two examples of athletes that achieved superstar status, adopted a vegan diet, and then struggled with injuries and poor performance before exiting the league. Olympian Carl Lewis reached the pinnacle of his sport, became vegan, and posted diminishing results in the following years.
And sometimes whole teams are affected. This year, a new nutrition coordinator for the Texas A&M football team switched the entire squad to a high grain, low protein diet. Now, the team is experiencing one of its worst seasons in years. The athletes are complaining of serious intestinal distress, and in addition, insiders say that players are fading at the end of games because literally they can’t stop farting.