Meat of the Matter: Evaluating pros & cons

Most people get whatever information they retain about the effects eating meat from occasional online articles — make that, "occasional online headlines" — video clips, "news" segments on local TV and emails pushing agendas or selling some quick weight loss product.

That, plus a bunch of second-hand "facts" shared by friends, relatives and colleagues who accessed the same sources noted above. Would you agree?

The problem with that process is that the resulting info-swamp becomes nearly impossible to wade through in search of truth, mainly because sorting fact from fiction takes a deep and detailed knowledge of biology, nutrition and history few people possess.

Not to mention trying to understand the complexities of the statistical analyses that underlie epidemiological research.

Which is why articles such as one posted recently on The Daily Meal website entrap anyone who skims through it with a maddening mix of half-truths, exaggerations and factoids taken out of context — all of which end up creating confusion, rather than clarity.

For the sake of the latter, allow me to assess the validity of "7 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Eat Red Meat — and 8 Reasons Why You Should."

Don't worry; this won't take as long as might seem from that headline, 'cause I'll be selective.

The (Alleged) Cons of Eating Meat

Blood Vessels May Harden. "Carnitine, a compound found in red meat . . . may be responsible for the clogging of blood vessels." FALSE. Carnitine, an amino acid, is made in the liver. Like cholesterol, even if you don't consume it, your body manufactures it, anyway. And guess what? Carnitine is so "toxic" that it's marketed as a supplement to athletes (and wanna-bes) as a way to promote energy production.

Red Meat May Cause Diabetes. FALSE. Consider the source: The Harvard School of Public Health, run by anti-red meat zealots, regularly publishes scare stories touting studies that isolate a single dietary factor from among dozens of lifestyle variables and then attempts to turn that association into a case-and-effect to go full vegetarian.

Red Meat May Be a Carcinogen. SERIOUSLY? About eight hundred thousand foods, chemicals and compounds found in Nature "may be" carcinogens. Cancer is a complex, highly individualized disease that involves a poorly understood interaction of numerous variables: age, gender, heredity, immune status, diet, lifestyle, personality and overlapping medical and pharmaceutical complications.

Now, let's flip the coin over and review The Daily Meal's positives about eating meat.

The (Ridiculous) Pros of Eating Meat

Beef Can Be Sustainable. TRUE, but if this a pro, who needs cons? "Grain-fed beef comes from cows that have been fed a diet of grain, soy, and sometimes even animal byproducts. Many cows are also pumped with hormones to expedite the growth process and hooked up to antibiotics to prevent the disease that come from being shoved into overcrowded feedlots." If this is someone's idea of how to promote eating meat, I've got a one-word suggestion: Stop!

Meat Supports Intelligence. NOT UNTRUE, but this argument is j-u-u-u-st a bit outside most people's concerns about meat-eating. "Many evolutionary biologists believe that a diet rich in red meat eaten by our ancestors was responsible for the dramatic increase in the size of our brains compared to other plant-eating primates. Gorillas, which have a plant-based diet, can grow up to three times bigger than us, but their brains are far smaller than the human brain." Yeah, baby! King Kong ain't got nuthin' on us!

Meat Improves Fertility and Virility. BIZARRE. "Selenium, an antioxidant found in red meat and nuts, plays a key role in conception because it is crucial to the development of healthy ovarian follicles." Yes, healthy follicles are important in normal conception and pregnancy, but that argument in favor of including meat in one's diet is so far down the list of valid reasons as to be ludicrous.

Fight Your Cold with Red Meat. YOU'RE KIDDING, RIGHT? "Red meat is one of the best food sources of iron and zinc, and vitamins A and D. This combination makes red meat a great way to combat colds." No it's not. Nothing is! If there were some edible substance that could cure a cold, drug companies would have patented it generations ago, and you'd be paying fifty bucks a bottle for it every time you got the sniffles.

My brain hurts from trying to make sense of this sloppy stew of nonsensical info-noise, yet this is exactly what most people rely on when it comes to their knowledge of diet, health and nutrition.

I need something that actually does improve virility, ease the symptoms of a cold and improve (perceived) intelligence.

A drink.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.