Why is it that so many things are bad for you these days? We know that too much sugar, salt and calories are a bad combination for longevity.
Now, the health publication, Nutrition Action, says red meat increases the risk of several major diseases. Horrendous news for me as roast beef and mashed potatoes are my favourite meal. So how risky is it to eat meat?
Dr. Walter Willett at Harvard’s School of Public Health is a top nutritional guru. He says that 9% of deaths in the Harvard study could have been saved if people ate less red meat daily. In effect, the consumption of red meat was related to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Willet says that the strongest evidence that red meat causes cancer is colon malignancy. And that the main culprits are processed red meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and lunch meats.
Moreover, eating meats during adolescence increases the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women.
So far Willett doesn’t know why this happens. But he points to an interesting fact. When the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima young breasts were more likely to develop cancer from the radiation while women over 40 years of age had virtually no risk of this disease.
But why is red meat so dangerous? Willett’s answer is that processed meats contain preservatives such as nitrites and nitrosamines and we know these are carcinogenic in animals. In addition, red meat contains high levels of saturated fat.
So what is a meat lover to do?
Willet says you should try to get protein from other sources such as poultry, fish, nuts, beans and low fat dairy products. And the healthiest dairy food is yogurt because of its effect on microbes in the intestine.
I found Willett’s remarks on the environment of particular interest.
He points out that cattle emit large amounts of methane gas, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane’s impact on climate is 20 times greater than carbon dioxide’s! In addition, cattle produce five times more greenhouse gas than chickens, pigs and hens.
We also know that cattle require nutrition and it takes huge amounts of energy to produce fertilizer to grow corn, soy beans and other crops to feed them. There’s also another problem. Excess fertilizer can end up in lakes and rivers leading to low oxygen dead zones. Tons of manure can also pollute our waterways.
Finally, antibiotics used in animals are not good for any of us as they lead to resistant bacteria.
But Willett also reminds us that risk comes in a number of different packages. For instance, he emphasizes that other habits such as smoking, inadequate exercise, trans fats and a lack of fruit and vegetables can increase the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. He also stresses that people who consume more white bread, rice, potatoes, sweets and cola drinks have the same risk of heart attack as those who eat red meat. And that obesity is another huge risk factor.
It appears this dietary message is getting through to North Americans.
Since 1975 Canadians are consuming half the amount of meat and double the amount of poultry. In the U.S. the Federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has urged people to eat less red and processed meat and to make sure it’s lean. This must make ranchers and meat processors reach for Prozac!
So what will I do? Hell will freeze over before I turn down prime rib and mashed potatoes when I see them listed on the menu. But I admit that in our home we now eat more fish, poultry, fresh fruit and vegetables.
It all gets back to moderation, realizing that it’s highly unlikely that only an occasional meal of steak is going to shorten one’s life.
Many reader ask where they can obtain my book 90 + How I Got There It can be obtained by sending $19.95 to Giff Holdings, 525 Balliol St, Suite #6, Toronto, Ontario, M4S 1E1