By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

People often wonder if eating meat causes disease, and the short answer is that there is no conclusive evidence showing that it does.

While there have been many studies looking at the links between eating meat and chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer, it turns out that the conclusions are based on epidemiological studies that are performed in order to generate a hypothesis rather than draw concrete conclusions.

Sensationalized movies promoting a vegan diet like “What the Health?” and books like “The China Study” are based on epidemiological studies that show correlation but not causation. And they can be very misleading.

The problem with creating great studies on nutrition is that they’re hard to do.

A verified clinical study takes a lot of time, people and money. It’s challenging to keep politics and biases out of them, and there are many variables that have to be considered to get accurate results.

Consider all of these factors that epidemiological studies don’t account for—at least not all in one study:

Are the subjects of the studies accurate and/or honest when they report what they ate and drank over a period of time? Was the meat that the subjects reported eating from fast food restaurants or clean sources? How do the subjects eat their meat—rare or well done? Do they eat while they’re driving or in front of a screen? Do they also eat plenty of fresh vegetables?

Do the subjects exercise or have sedentary lifestyles? Do they have a family history of heart disease and cancer, and are they obese? Are they heavy drinkers or smokers? Do they have healthy relationships? Do they experience chronic stress? Do they have a spiritual or mindfulness practice? Do age, education and income play a role in their food choices and overall health?

Here’s a great example that sheds light on how we Americans, myself included, have been led to believe vegetarian diets are healthier than a carnivore diet:

A case for vegetarians living longer and healthier lives is often based on the residents of Loma Linda, California. This town of 22,000 people is home to a large population of the Christian faith-based group, the Seventh Day Adventists. They are 10 times more likely to live to 100 years old than the national average.

The reason for their longevity is often attributed to the fact that their religion requires them to eat a no- or low-meat diet. Countless articles have been written on this. While it’s true that they do live longer lives, there are many other variables that must be considered. Their faith also instructs them to avoid drinking alcohol, smoking and drug use. It also advises them to exercise frequently, be involved in their community and live life with a sense of purpose and meaning.

Meat is not necessarily the villain. We need to take a look at the big picture of the standard American diet, our sedentary lifestyles, and chronic feelings of stress and isolation.

So, if eating meat makes you feel good, eat it. If you listen closely to your body, it will tell you what it wants and what it doesn’t.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach. Her purpose is to support others in becoming their best and healthiest version of themselves. Email her at jackie@corcoranhealth.com to schedule a complimentary 30-minute health coaching session. Check out her website corcoranhealth.com to learn more.