In defense of real meat


A couple of weeks ago a health report called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer” came out indicating that obesity is a risk factor for cancer. No huge surprise there. The bit that caught my eye was the idea that red meat is simply horrible for us, and that we should not consume more than 500 grams a week.

That is not very much meat, and considering that for millennia many inland traditional cultures depended on hunting and consuming red meat to make it through harsh winters, I doubt they would have survived if they were following those guidelines.

So, how is it possible that these are the guidelines that have come out of the research?

The radio broadcast I heard on the subject talked about Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard, and how he found that the less meat one consumed the less the chance of developing cancer. (I hope I got that right.) I've been trying to find an actual copy of the report to verify this, but I'm not sure it has been published online.

So, I went to pubmed to see if I could find the studies upon which this idea was based. Based on the abstracts (and this is a rather major caveat!), it looks like in many of the studies, the diets were divided into what was called “the prudent pattern”, which included diets high in vegetables, fruit, legumes, fish and whole grains, and the “western pattern”, which included diets high in red and processed meats, refined grains, sweets and desserts, and the conclusions were that the “western diet” increases risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer.

Clearly processed meat, refined grains, sweets and desserts are going to increase disease rates, but why is red meat lumped in with those non-foods?

Possibly when I read the actual studies that question will be answered, but on the surface that placement seems very arbitrary, and not one upon which to base a 500 gram limit.

The other problem inherent in epidemiological studies, is there is no control whatsoever on the quality of the food consumed. Even unprocessed red meat that is bought at a typical grocery store is very problematic, as most grocery stores sell factory-farmed meat.

These animals were not eating their natural diet of grass, but rather, fed pesticide-laden, probably GMO grain, making the animals sick. Antibiotics and hormones are given to the animals, in an effort to control illness, and to help the animals grow quickly for slaughter.

Then there is the increasing practice of injecting carbon monoxide into “case ready” meats being shipped to grocery stores, which keeps the meat looking red and fresh, even when it actually begins to spoil.

So, if consumers are only going by colour without looking at expiry dates, they may be deceived. Carbon Monoxide treatment has been banned in Europe, but is GRAS (generally regarded as safe), and therefore unlabeled under the FDA.

I would consider this meat to be “processed” too, and think that possibly consuming this kind of meat just might increase disease rates as was shown in the studies.

But what about REAL red meat – the kind that has been eaten by various cultures forever? Meat from animals that are eating their natural diet, and exercising daily as they go about their lives? Game, grass-fed bison, grass-fed beef, goat, sheep, lamb?

The natives of northern BC lived primarily on moose, grizzly bear and cariboo during the winter months, the natives near James Bay also relied on moose and other game (they avoided scurvy by eating the adrenal glands), the Masai and the Mahima tribes of Uganda in Africa ate mostly cattle, milk and blood etc.

Most cultures of the world did not have to rely entirely on red meat to survive as many had access to seafood as well as to vegetation, but most cultures of the world included red meat regularly in their diet.

Their skeletal remains indicate excellent bone and teeth formation, and no signs of the degenerative diseases we suffer from today.

Could it not be the case that our modernized methods of raising meat and treating meat is what has made it problematic, and not meat itself?

There are current studies that indicate that grass-fed meats are far higher in omega 3 fatty acids than grain-fed meats which would provide many health benefits, but I have not found any studies that have looked at grass-fed meats and heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

It is time that science became pickier about the quality of food that is used in food studies, rather than use modernized foods, or even better, to do studies comparing unprocessed, quality food traditionally prepared, with food using modernized growing and treatment methods when it comes to degenerative diseases.

It seems far too early to make a generalized statement that red meat is unhealthy, especially based on epidemiological studies that can’t possibly take into consideration meat quality.

And the other problem with modern science in my opinion, is that it is based on the fundamentally flawed assumption that all the subjects in the study are the same biochemically, giving the false impression that nutrition is a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Practical experience has shown that a diet that works for one person makes someone else worse, and that is why there is still no real consensus in the science world with respect to nutrition.

The take home message? Stay away from all processed, deli and grain-fed red meat. Look for game or grass-fed meats instead, especially if you are a protein type and need to eat a fair bit of meat to optimize your health. Bison and New Zealand lamb can be good options, as well as grass-fed beef.

Related Tips
Food Guide Fallacy
Organic vs. Conventional meat, poultry, dairy and eggs
Processed food is taking over our supermarkets
Nutrient-dense foods

Obesity Nears Smoking As Cancer-Causer CBS News, Oct. 31, 2007.

Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective American Institute for Cancer Research, the Second Expert Report, Nov. 2007.

Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Price-Pottenger Foundation, La Mesa, CA, 2000.

Pottenger, Francis MD Pottenger's Cats; Second Edition  Price-Pottenger Foundation, Lemon Grove, CA, 1995.

Fung T. et al. Prospective study of major dietary patterns and stroke risk in women. Stroke. 2004 Sep;35(9):2014-9. Epub 2004 Jul 1.

Fung TT, Schulze M, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Dietary patterns, meat intake, and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Nov 8;164(20):2235-40.

Fung T, Hu FB, Fuchs C, Giovannucci E, Hunter DJ, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Willett WC. Major dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancer in women. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Feb 10;163(3):309-14.

Fung TT, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Hu FB. Dietary patterns and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Arch Intern Med.2001 Aug 13-27;161(15):1857-62.

Cho E, Chen WY, Hunter DJ, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Hankinson SE, Willett WC. Red meat intake and risk of breast cancer among premenopausal women. Arch Intern Med. 2006 Nov 13;166(20):2253-9.

Michaud DS, Skinner HG, Wu K, Hu F, Giovannucci E, Willett WC, Colditz GA, Fuchs CS. Dietary patterns and pancreatic cancer risk in men and women. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2005 Apr 6;97(7):518-24.

Wu K, Hu FB, Willett WC, Giovannucci E. Dietary patterns and risk of prostate cancer in U.S. men. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006 Jan;15(1):167-71.

Ponnampalam EN, Mann NJ, Sinclair AJ. Effect of feeding systems on omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and trans fatty acids in Australian beef cuts: potential impact on human health. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2006;15(1):21-9.

Copyright 2007 Vreni Gurd

1 Comment

  1. E3 Success Blog » Blog Archive » E-3 Carnival of Health and Wellness - December 6, 2007 said,

    December 9, 2007 @ 9:14 am

    […] Vreni Gurd presents In defense of real meat posted at wellness tips. […]

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