Weight loss is a complex, thorny health issue that we’re still learning about. But, on paper, it’s pretty simple. You burn so many calories a day, more if your exercise, and consume so many a day. Burn more than you consume, and you will begin to lose weight. The issue, of course, is that, more often than not, we don’t track how much we consume, which is where claims that meat is as bad for you as sugar start popping up.
Wenpeng You and Maciej Henneberg of the University of Adelaide performed a pretty straightforward study, in which they compared the obesity of a country to its per capita consumption of various foods, and controlled for factors like physical activity. The results, unfortunately, speak for themselves: The more sugar and meat a country consumed, the fatter its citizens got.
Our bodies value meat and sugar as food because both offer a lot of energy in tiny amounts, which in the wild — where our bodies still think we live — is enormously important. 3.5 ounces of bacon has 500 calories, on average, for example. That’d be great if you were a caveman, but it’s also a quarter of the USDA’s 2000 calorie per day allowance. You and Henneberg argue that meat should be clearly labeled with health warnings, which seems a bit much, but in the end they’re pretty much just reinforcing what we already knew: We could stand to eat less meat.
The real lesson here isn’t that we should stop eating meat, but that we should carefully track what we eat and stay below our caloric limit. That may not be as fun to share on Facebook, but it makes a lot more sense. So enjoy a sensible portion of steak: Just don’t eat it well-done.