Friday, June 19, 2009

Meat: That Stuff Will Kill You

The U.S. National Cancer Institute recently released the largest study ever done on meat consumption. The findings? Those who ate 125 grams of red (beef and pork) and processed meat a day had a 30% greater chance of dying of heart disease and cancer than those who ate 20 grams a day. The study found that potentially carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds are formed in the gut when heme iron from red meat and gut bacteria trigger meat protein to combine with nitrites.


I read about the study in the recent issue of Nutrition Action. The coverage was interesting. According to Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, "if you go from eating meat twice a day to once a week, you can eliminate most of the risk." Most of the risk? Why not eliminate all the risk? Isn't this like recommending smoking one cigarette a day to reduce the risk of cancer? Nutrition Action gets in on the game, too. Even though grilling meat increases your risk of cancer, the editors offer a list of tips for "good grilling" to minimize the risk. And, while they condemn red meat for its environmental impact (55% of the erosion, 37% of pesticides applied, 50% of antibiotics consumed, 32% of nitrogen and 33% of the phosphorous load into the water supply in the U.S.), they let fish and poultry off the hook.

It's time for health advocates to promote veganism and quit this ridiculous charade of minimizing the risk of meat.

29 comments:

aimee said...

Amen! Most people are too lazy to even try to give up their meat and dairy and eggs. Just ridiculous for a supposedly advanced species to be so dependent on other species for food. Even though I told myself I would never "vegangelize" I find myself doing it a lot recently because I'm so disgusted!

Tracy Warner said...

I agree with you and understand your frustration. However, I think it's necessary sometimes for health officials to not alienate people by saying, "never eat meat". Most people wouldn't do that. They can however convince people to cut back dramatically, which in turn will minimize the environmental and health effects at the very least.

I would love to hear more health officials treat meat as the same risk to health as cigarettes. Unfortunately, the masses are a sensitive and fickle group who need to be patted on the back for simply cutting the amount of red meat they eat.

I can't tell you how many times I've asked someone "Are you vegetarian?" and they respond "Sort of. I don't eat red meat." In this sense, at least they believe we're rallying behind the same cause, and hopefully it's like a "gateway product" to more future meat and dairy product elimination.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

You can only link up to the cover there doesn't seem to be an online read to it

Amanda said...

Great post... I have a hard time supporting a lot of these fund raising pushes for the cure for cancer because I know the money isn't going towards nutritional research..and we know that is the cure right there. Someone should send a copy of the China Study to the American Cancer Society 'cause they don't seem to be getting it!

Erin said...

Does the study address organic and free-range meats as well as "conventionally" raised beef?

knoju said...

I have subscribed to Nutrition Action Healthletter since the late 90's and they are fantastic. This meat article is so very true. Go Veg for Life!

Beth said...

On a semi-related note -- have you read "The China Study"? It has changed the lives of 3 friends. (I am on the waiting list at the library.)

p.s. Were you up with vegan daughter at 4:23 a.m.?!?

nicolaknits said...

So true. The studies show one thing but the researchers are too scared to come out and say it - meat is bad. So what if meat producers will lose money - get into organic vegetable farming, for crying out loud!

Amy said...

Thanks so much for pointing this out!!! I totally agree! Sometimes incredibly ubelievable to me that people still even want to eat meat when you see all the research - eck!

Mary Sue said...

You do know that some people can't be vegan, right? Iron resistant anemia is not something to fool around with. I know because I did fool around with it and wound up in the hospital. Despite eating ethically raised meat and taking 2000% of the RDA of iron supplements daily, my blood iron levels are so low that I have a blood transfusion about once a year.

Bianca said...

People are just so damn lazy! Its like, let's improve our health by eating less meat, but giving it all up is just too hard. Whatever. It's kinda sad to say this, but if people know the risks and they continue the behavior, they bring the problems on themselves. I don't really feel sorry for them.

Allana said...

I agree with you, Vegan Dad; seems like health advocates do not want to promote veganism...perhaps there is a fear of public ridicule and being discredited by the large meat producing companies. Sad fact is, most people who consume meat can't imagine life without it; it's part of their culture and actually don't care about the risks.

When studies on meat consumption reveal startling health claims that can result in death, I imagine that responsible individuals would do the right thing; step out of the box,examine the facts, and make a change that would benefit their health and the environment.

But how can they when health advocates continue to promote eating meat. Instead of recommending elimination all together, they suggest cutting back as a means to minimize health risks. As ridiculous as that sounds, it is actually a glimmer of hope for most. It's up to us to share, support, and show others that we all can lead a healthy life without eating meat.

BTW, congrats on the new addition to your family. Be blessed!

Allana

Stacy said...

There were a lot of problems with that study, and I don't buy into it. First of all, I doubt they were looking at grass fed/pastured organic meats, and I'd bet that the people in the study were eating some variation of a standard american diet (i.e. lots of sugars, refined grains, some portion of fast foods, poor omega 3:omega 6 ratio, etc). Without those things being taken out and accounted for, there is no way to prove that the meat was the problem and not the way the meat was raised, or some combination of the way the meat was raised plus other bad dietary habits.

There are some excellent blog posts that are critical of the study. Here are two of them, but there are many more.
http://blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/2009/03/will-eating-meat-make-us-die-younger.html
http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2009/04/modern-diet-health-epidemiology-self.html

Vegan is not the answer for everyone. People can have a crappy vegan diet too. And it is possible to enjoy vibrant health as an omnivore.

dreaminitvegan said...

It is tiring to hear people say "I don't eat red meat". All animal flesh poses health risks. I also agree with Amanda regarding the issues of raising money for cancer. I understand they need to find treatments to completely elimininate cancer once you get it, but what about really pushing and spending money to teach people about diet and the elimination of toxic chemicals. We don't just get cancer for no reason. Thanks Vegan Dad for sharing the info.

Vegan Dad said...

Sorry that the above link is just to the title page. Nutrition Action does want to make money through subscriptions, so they do not put all their content in the web for free. You can view the editor's message and see how he condemns beef but worships chicken and fish.

As for organic, grass-feed, wheatver, beef: it does not matter. This is about heme iron in red meat (no matter how it was raised), meat protein (not veggie), and nitrites (from veggies, water, processed meat) mixing together to form carcinogenic compounds. Secondly, it is about mutagens (HCAs) in cooked meat that occur regardless of how the meat was raised.

Also, all cows, regardless of how they are raised, release methane--a greenhouse gas.

Yes, the study has problems. The one I see is that they compared meat-eaters to meat-eaters. So, those who ate more had a 30% better chance of dying from cancer than those who ate less. What about those who ate none?

My problem is this: why don't these scientists and health advocates at least mention vegetarianism? Instead, we get quotes disparaging a plant-based diet--essentially, "I wouldn't go so crazy as to give up meat, I am just going to cut back." Again, I go to the cigarette comparison. Will you die from smoking one cig a week? Probably not. But would a doctor or the American Cancer Society advocate this? Of course not.

Sure, not everyone can go vegan due to disorders and diseases, but I wager most could and would benefit.

yari said...

I agree with you, but I guess it will take still long until vegetarianism (at least) would be advocated as a way to prevent cancer and heart diseases. The same happens here in Europe, where there are still too many doctors who are even against vegetarianism and veganism...

Cesh said...

The problem lies herein Vegan Dad, the advocates are still addicts. They consume meat products themselves, probably have their entire lives, and would rather risk death than drastically change their eating habits. It's laziness and fear of the unknown, of change. It's sad, but it's basic human behavior.

sea babies said...

The biggest problem I have is that it takes 7 pounds of corn to produce 1 pound of beef. Somehow this doesn't seem logical to me whatsoever.

Veg-a-Nut said...

Vegan Dad! I want to congratulate you on being the star of my Meatout Mondays weekly email. I did get your book and our family loves your recipes.

sarahrahh said...

hmmm. what im wondering is why grilling meat causes cancer?
is it the grilling, the meat, or both together?
i dont have to worry about it, im vegan, but i was kinda confused by that.

harrison said...

Of course, one does have to remember that correlation doesn't imply causation; people who eat less red meat are likely to be more health-conscious in general than people who eat a lot of it, and people who are vegan or vegetarian for health reasons or partially for health reasons will of course be more health-conscious.

And while fish and poultry can have negative health consequences and certainly contribute to environmental degradation, red meat is the worst offender by far. In the long run, it would be best for our health and the world if most people stopped eating meat or animal products; but in the short run, this kind of study is a much-needed stepping stone.

Karina said...

Hi Vegan Dad,

I echo the 2 readers who've mentioned the China Study (by T. Colin Campbell). Have you read it? If not, I'd highly, highly recommend it, if you get some spare seconds in your schedule!

It's the result of a 40-year study (observational and laboratory) on nutrition, focusing on the carcinogenic effects of animal protein. It's absolutely mind-blowing, and definitely reaffirms the dietary choices we've made.

Jennifer Schmohe said...

SERIOUSLY

Heather C. said...

Lovely post. Thanks for the link.

From a health research standpoint, I support and understand why they did a big meat eater to small meat eater comparison: it's just one study. Step by step, everyone. You can't go piling on all interesting variables into one study because it'll hurt the strength of the results. Now that these findings are out (as redundant as the findings are to some degree), other studies can cite it when they do a carnivorous diet vs. herbivorous diet study.
It's pointless and damaging to be impatient. The same goes for expecting people to just take the plunge into changing their lifestyle overnight and against their comfort levels.

Also on a health level, while those of us who've decided to transition into vegetarian or vegan lifestyles and diets have done so successfully and with varying levels of ease, not everyone can do so. Both for potential illness reasons and for the fact that after so many years of meat-eating, it'd be jarring and potentially risky to just one day stop eating meat. Possible, but not necessarily healthy for every person.

So before we go disparaging meat eaters, big and small, trying to get them to convert their thinking and lifestyle, we've got to regard them and their decisions and their circumstances with respect first. After all, that's what we expect from them and that's what much of our lifestyle choice is founded upon: respect.

Jade said...

This is it exactly, Vegan Dad! Most people can and should go vegan, and can eat delicious healthy food whilst doing so! Obviously some people cannot go vegan due to health problems, but for most people veganism is by far the healthiest way of life.

AB said...

Vegan Dad,
First, let me offer my late congratulations on the birth of adorable footed vegan daughter (happy dad's day) and thank you for this post. This is why you continue to be my favorite vegan blog- great recipes, a few personal anecdotes and awareness- and a reminder- on why it's important to be vegan!

Helen said...

i wonder how grilled/bbqed veggies rate on the cancer scale?

Vegan Dad said...

On grilling meat:
Grilling meat creates two classes of mutagens: 1. heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and 2. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Mutagens can cause changes in DNA which can lead to cancer). The body recognizes both of these mutagens as foreign substances that need to be expelled. Thus, the body tries to make them more soluable so they can be washed out in the urine. However, this process makes the mutagens more active and more able to damage DNA.

On grilling veggies:
According to the article, veggie burgers and cooked vegetables generate little or no HCAs. Grilling is not specifically mentioned. However, cruciferous veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts may help your liver detoxify HCAs.

MondayCampaigns said...

As you point out, the connection between a healthier life and cutting meat consumption is becoming fortified by the recent research and it is a principal driving force for the nonprofit health initiative Meatless Monday. I intern with Meatless Monday, a project of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, to encourage cutting meat consumption for improved personal health as well as a reduced carbon footprint. The website has various recipes (like this Broccoli, Red Pepper, and Tofu Quiche: http://www.meatlessmonday.com/broccoli-red-pepper-tofu-quich/) as well as nutrition facts and health news. Also, check out the Youtube video for the history and science behind the campaign: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpnKeYmR1NM.
Best, Ashwini