Are dairy foods and red meat really the enemy?

Recently, the media reported how doctors in Gisborne have been using a ‘real food’ diet to improve the health of patients with Type II diabetes and high cardiovascular risk. It was a high-carb, low-fat diet that eliminated red meat and dairy and focused on fresh vegetables and fruit, grains, cereals, legumes and nuts.

The goal of the doctors was to reduce the number of medications their patients with diabetes and cardiovascular disease were taking.

The group lost an average of 11kg over 12-months and they did reduce medication use. However, the diet had no effect on either their diabetes or cholesterol levels.

Most of us would recognise this diet as a “standard” healthy diet that has been promoted for as long as I can remember. However, the cause of both diabetes and high cholesterol isn’t fat.

Diabetes is a malfunction in the ability to use the glucose in carbohydrate foods properly. This starts slowly and progresses through various phases until eventually, a diabetic condition evolves, with insulin resistance and chronically high blood sugar. So having a diet that includes carbs (sugar) doesn’t make sense.

When it comes to cholesterol we know that the liver converts excess carbohydrates that are eaten, into triglycerides. This is the fat that circulates in the bloodstream. Elevated triglycerides are dangerous and an early indication that metabolic problems are beginning. They also contribute to heart disease.

In February 2016 a $1.3 million research project was completed in Adelaide, Australia comparing a high-carb/low-fat diet with a low-carb/high-fat diet for controlling diabetes.

This study found that the low-carb/high-fat diet performed the best for controlling diabetes, reducing cholesterol, improving HDL (good cholesterol) and reducing LDL (the bad stuff).

The reduction in medication use was about 40% and more than double than in the high-carb group.

A Pub-Med search quickly showed there are other studies with similar results. Meta-analysis (looking at all the research and comparing results) showed that low-carb/high-fat and Paleo diet performed better than a high-carb/low-fat approach.

This doesn’t mean that the standard healthy diet these doctors used doesn’t have any research evidence – there are a lot of studies that show this is better than the standard Western diet, it’s just not as good as a low-carb or Paleo approach for diabetes.

So what about eliminating red meat and dairy?

There continues to be such a negative attitude to eating meat and other animal products. Animal products are the only “real food” sources of vitamin B12 which is essential for energy production, brain function and metabolic processes throughout the body. They are also the most biologically available source of many other vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. While it probably isn’t recommended, meat is the only food that we can eat solely, indefinitely and survive.

There are many studies that demonstrate red meat and fat do not cause cancer, heart disease and diabetes. One study showed the more fat and meat women ate, the healthier they were.

Needless to say, early researchers were surprised by the results because this was in the era where fat was considered bad and animal fats were dangerous. Researchers were expecting the women who ate less meat and fat and consumed more carbs from grains, cereals, vegetables and fruit would be healthier. Guess what – they weren’t.

A small dietary trial I completed in 2014 with 10 participants had similar results. It showed that high-fat, low-carb diet worked for people with metabolic disease, high cholesterol, poor liver function and weight loss.

My participants lost between 9 – 15kg over 12 weeks. Cholesterol levels improved in everyone (including total cholesterol, LDL HDL and triglycerides) just like the 2016 study in Adelaide).

Reducing grains, cereals and legumes and increasing the fat and animal products got triglycerides down from dangerous to optimal levels in all 10 people. Conditions such as gout improved and Type II diabetes was reversed. There were reductions in blood pressure as well as improvements in nutritional status, iron, vitamin B12, Folate and zinc.

I know it’s difficult to keep up with all the information about what we should and shouldn’t do – besides that’s my job – to keep up to date with the latest research and translate it into simple language for my clients.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone.

Different people do better on different diets. Some need more carbs, others more protein or more fat.

Become more aware of how the food you eat makes you feel and keep track to see if this is a regular occurrence or if it’s an isolated incident. This is very useful insight when working with any practitioner.

And if you’re struggling with weight-loss, fatigue or digestive issues and you’re feeling frustrated because you’re not seeing the results you want, then book in for an initial consultation and let’s start investigating the real reason why.



  1. Hi Sue, I have been reading the Sun Herald nutrition column by Niki Bazzant who seems to have established herself as the “Influencer” for vegan diets and stressing the dangers of eating red meat.
    Can you clarify this for me please. I am a very fit healthy person eating only meat and protein.

    • Thank you for the great question.

      Promoting plant-based diets is a current trend sweeping the world. While media reports and influencers are well intentioned when advocating a vegan diet, they do not always accurately represent the facts.

      The articles you refer to are an example of this, so I am glad you raised this question. Most people read the headlines and assume that the experts know what they are talking about. There is a presumption that the research quoted is reliable. To digress slightly from the red meat debate, the reason we find ourselves in the current health crisis of increasing chronic disease, is because of doctored data by Ancel Keys in 1953. He did a study on 22 countries investigating whether saturated fat was linked to heart disease. He could not find any association, so he eliminated all the data that didn’t agree with his idea. He reported on the results of 6 countries that confirmed his opinion and won a Noble Peace Prize for his efforts. This resulted in a world wide conviction that saturated fat, increased cholesterol and caused heart disease. For 70 years our medical and nutrition industry has been built on this completely fabricated data. What resulted is a wide-spread addiction to refined processed foods, sugar and seed oils and along with increasing poor health.

      It is important we don’t fall into the same trap with doctored data and red meat. The Herald should really be publishing an alternate view on this subject. But just like the media has demonised saturated fat for all these years; they will demonise red meat, regardless of the consequences.

      In regard to Niki’s articles, there has been no proper research trials ever completed on red meat and cancer. There have been no trials on red meat and anything. All the evidence quoted by plant-based advocates, comes from what are called epidemiology studies. These are observational studies done over a number of years. The dietary information is collected using dietary recall. Try and remember what you ate last week, or month, or a year ago. Now you see the problem. It is well recognised in nutritional research that dietary recall is very inaccurate.

      Once all the data has been collected it goes through a statistical analysis. This is where data manipulation begins. Rather than publishing the actual change in risk, a formulae that calculates relative risk is applied. This is done to conflate the results. Imagine a study with 200 people. 100 estimate they ate 50 grams more meat per day than the other group. Over a 5 year period, three people in the first group and two in second group die. The actual difference is 1% over 5 years, so 0.20% per year. But this doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t. If you enjoy eating meat, you will probably decide it is worth the risk and will keep eating it.

      In order to convince you to be fearful of red meat, the researchers report on the relative risk. They say there is a 50% difference between 1 and 2. If you spread that over 5 years, there is a 10% increase in risk of cancer every year you eat red meat. How can they get away with this you ask? That’s a good question. It is called doctoring data. Hardly anyone does more than read the abstract. Newspaper reporters certainly don’t.

      Another problem with these studies is how they deal with confounding issues. The people who ate more red meat might smoke or drink more alcohol.They might exercise less. What else are they eating with the meat? Unless you go and read the study itself, you will never know.

      Then there is the problem that correlation is not the same as causation. Epidemiological studies cannot be used to determine causation, again this is a well known principle in research methodology. These studies can only say one thing is associated with another, not that one thing causes another. Consider this example. Eating ice-creams causes shark attacks. There is a correlation between how many ice-creams are eaten and how many shark attacks occur. But nobody believes that eating ice-cream causes sharks to attack. The two things just happen to occur at the same time, so there must be a third variable that connects the two. One reason may be that more ice-creams are eaten during summer, when more people go swimming. Just a thought. This kind of stuff happens all the time in research – even clinical trials.

      There are some common sense considerations when assessing articles like this. Consider that humans have been eating meat for our entire evolution. We are well adapted to extracting the nutrients from meat, which provides these in a biologically available form. Would evolution allow us to adapt to a system that goes on to kill us with cancer and heart disease? It’s not very likely. So, when we are looking at the increases in all the diseases of modern civilisation, it is important to consider the confounding factors. This wasn’t done. Instead, it is human nature to have a bias toward one idea or another and then go looking for information that supports your theory, while ignoring everything that discredits it. This is called confirmation bias. We all do it. But people who have a platform to influence others, particularly around health, owe it to the public not to fall into this trap.

      With regard to plant-based diets, they can certainly be very healthy, but they also take a lot of work to ensure adequate nutrition is achieved. A plant-based diet is not a standard diet without animal products. That approach really is a recipe for poor health. Eating a plant-based diet long-term does put you at a greater risk of nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin B12; no matter what your vegan friends may tell you.

      There are also people who do not respond well to the anti-nutrients that are found in many plant foods. Most people would never consider plant foods containing anti-nutrients, but they do. In susceptible people these can cause significant health problems. Plant-based diets that include a lot of raw fruits and vegetables, including juicing may become particularly problematic over time. I regularly test clients for nutrient status and find similar deficiencies in those who eat plant-based and standard diets. Low protein as well as an imbalance between Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids is common. So is a poorly adapted energy system. But that is a discussion for another day!

      • Thank for your very comprehensive reply to my question. The NZ meat board should employ you to be their nutritional spokesperson!

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