Two weeks ago, I reported on the ridiculous claim that processed meats — like bacon, ham, and sausage — pose as big a cancer risk as cigarettes. I don’t know of any food attacked by health “experts” as loudly, viciously, and widely as meat — all without any real evidence. In fact, as I explained, there are three big, fat, juicy problem’s with the WHO’s attack on meat.
For 40 years, the U.S. government’s health experts targeted the saturated fats and cholesterol found in meat as the main culprits in chronic disease, despite lack of evidence and evidence to the contrary. Of course, the government’s dietary guidelines committee finally faced the facts and took dietary cholesterol and saturated fats off the “do-not-eat” list after 40 years of giving out bad advice. That means meat went back on the U.S. government’s approved foods list, together with other healthy foods like butter and eggs.
But the government’s abrupt about-face doesn’t do much to help the millions of Americans who tried to follow their now-discredited advice to cut out such healthy foods as butter, eggs, and meat for four decades. These Americans ended up eating more carbs, sugars, and sweeteners instead — the real culprits behind obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, and even high blood pressure. No wonder we face an obesity and chronic disease epidemic in America.
The supermarket isn’t hiding a heart-attack-on-a-plate — or the fountain of youth
Overall, I’m wary of any study or philosophy that focuses on extreme harms — or extreme benefits — of any single food. This approach misses the forest for the trees. And I’ve seen far too many studies where statisticians manipulate data to make a single food look like a heart-attack-on-a-plate…or, on the other hand, a fountain of youth.
Indeed a 2012 systematic review of statistical studies revealed just about everything we eat is associated with both lower and higher rates of cancer, depending upon the study.
But the latest attack on meat is just plain wrong….
In fact, last year, a large study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found no associations between protein consumption and overall death rates, nor deaths from cancer or cardiovascular diseases, for participants over age 50 years. (Plus, a 2013 study using the same NHANES database found meat consumption is not associated with mortality at all.)
In fact, in people over 65 years, researchers linked higher protein consumption with lower overall death rates and cancer rates.
Furthermore, the NHANES study defined people in the “high protein” group as those who ate only 20 percent or more of their total calories from protein. But the USDA recommends Americans consume up to 35 percent of calories from protein. So, really, we shouldn’t even consider the 20 percent level taken in this study as “high protein.”
Plus, other studies show people over 65 years don’t eat enough protein to maintain muscle, physical performance, and vitality, which is strongly associated with longevity in other studies.
Bad advice leads to bad habits
Sad to say, all the unfounded and misguided warnings against meat, cholesterol, fat, and salt did affect the actual eating habits of Americans.
Today, Americans eat less red meat than at any time since the 1970s. Americans do eat a bit more fruits and vegetables, but they also eat more carbohydrates, like grains and sugars. The human body is ill-equipped to process a lot of carbohydrates because they haven’t been on the human dietary menu for long in biological terms.
In fact, researchers now believe once humans began eating grains, their calorie consumption and body weight increased. So did their chronic disease rates.
Ironically — we’ve never been more preoccupied with weight loss.
In fact, last year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a meta-analysis of different weight loss programs. The study compared individual diet programs in three main categories: Low-carb (like Atkins), moderate macronutrients (Weight Watchers type), and Low-fat (like Ornish).
Turns out, all three of the programs can lead to moderate weight loss at six months. Unfortunately, the effects were not as great after 12 months. There was no clear loser or winner — except perhaps for the weight loss companies. Indeed, many people pay to lose the same weight over and over again.
As I always say, the best diet is the one you can follow.
Cutting out whole categories of foods — such as with a strict vegan diet — doesn’t support human metabolism, physiology, and health. So don’t focus on avoiding a single, simple-minded dietary culprit like meat. The body doesn’t work that way. We need a balanced diet, which includes foods like butter, eggs, fish, and meat.
Of course, modern medicine continues to focus on single, simple, “magic bullets,” whether they eliminate “causes” or administer “cures.”
The body is not defenseless. It has its own defenses. And true complementary medicine should work with the body’s natural abilities for health and healing.
Indeed, yesterday’s “magic bullets” tend to become today’s “friendly fire.”
- “Meat consumption and diet quality and mortality in NHANES III,” Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jun; 67(6): 598-606
- “Red Meat Is Not the Enemy,” New York Times (www.nytimes.com) 3/30/2015