It might be smart to take the new data against red meat -- a study links the consumption of even a small portion daily to a higher risk of dying -- with a grain of (possibly blood-pressure-raising) salt. Not that red meat should get a pass: Overconsumption has been tied, over and over again, to poor health outcomes. And the fact that your grandfather ate 12 ounces every day until his 102nd birthday is no argument against the study; lots of people who smoke cigarettes live to a ripe old age. But there is no getting around the number of people who would live to much riper ages if they abstained from tobacco.
Still, this study was correlational, meaning that we know red meat is tied statistically to higher death rates within the time range of the Harvard study. If that's even so: The study didn't examine what people ate; it asked them what they ate. The question is, did the red meat cause the deaths? Was it all of the reason for the deaths, most of it, a small part of it, or perhaps an indicator of other factors? And is it the meat itself, or perhaps substances used in the raising of cattle or in cooking? Processed meat was linked to still-higher death rates.
Maybe people who avoid red meat are more likely to live healthier altogether. Considering the warnings over the years about beef, that's entirely possible. People who heed health warnings might be more likely to eat vegetables, exercise regularly, meditate occasionally, fasten their seatbelts and, of course, not smoke, since cigarettes are still the No. 1 cause of premature death.
That would help explain the seemingly nonsensical finding that people who partake of red meat only occasionally and sparingly are less likely to die of any cause -- not just heart attack, diabetes or other ailments associated with poor diet but, say, in accidents. The only way a hamburger is more likely to cause a fatal accident is if it's being held in one hand by a driver.
Photo: Red meat. Credit: Dave Thomson / AP Photo