Less Meat in the Diet? Why I Hope That’s Wrong

By W. Gifford-Jones
W. Gifford-Jones
W. Gifford-Jones
August 29, 2013 Updated: August 29, 2013

“Yes, waiter, I want my steak blue!” I’ve found that statement the easiest way to get a rare steak. But should I be eating meat, rare or not? A recent report in Nutrition Action, which often provides sound advice, gives six reasons why a high intake of red meat is associated with coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and premature death.

1. In a Harvard study, 120,000 health professionals were followed for 28 years. Those who ate the most meat had a 30 percent higher risk of dying earlier. In another study, the National Institute of Health followed half a million people for 10 years and came to the same conclusion.

2. Dr. Adam Bernstein, research director at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, said, “Many recommendations for limiting red meat intake are based on its saturated fat and cholesterol content which increases bad cholesterol. 84,000 women were followed for 26 years and those who ate the most meat had a 26 percent greater risk of developing heart disease than those who consumed the least meat.”

He added, “Probably a combination of half a dozen different compounds and other nutrients lead to the ill-health effects of meat.”

One of the ingredients that concerns researchers is called N-nitroso compounds. Amanda Cross, a researcher at the U.S. Cancer Institute said, “When we fed people increasing amounts of unprocessed red meat, we saw levels of the N-nitroso compounds that are formed in the gut, increase.”

Stanley Hazen, another researcher at the Cleveland clinic, studied 2,600 patients admitted to the Clinic for cardiac catheterization, a procedure that determines if the coronary arteries are clogged. Studies revealed that these patients had high levels of carnitine in their blood, a nutrient found largely in red meat. Microbes in the intestine use carnitine to produce tri-methylamine-N-oxide. Those with high levels of this compound were 50 percent more likely to have a heart attack.

3. The Canadian Cancer Society said, “Adults should try to limit the amount of red meat per week to help reduce the risk of dying of cancer.” This means less beef, pork and lamb, but in particular processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami, and hot dogs.

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute the risk of colon and rectal cancer increases by about 20 percent for every serving of red or processed meat you eat per day. Other studies show an increased risk of pancreatic, prostate, and esophageal malignancy.

4. If you suffer a stroke it’s usually from a clogged artery in the brain, rather than a ruptured one. Several studies show the clogged risk increases the more processed and unprocessed meat is eaten.

5. A study of 200,000 people showed that the risk of type 2 diabetes was increased by eating red meat.

6. Save the earth. It takes 8 pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef and 1,000 tons of water to produce a ton of grain. It also takes fuel to get the water. Cows also pass methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas which has 23 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide. Forests are also cut for pasture.

So how can you decrease the risk of meat? The first advice is to marinate beef. Better still, eliminate 90 percent of toxins by microwaving beef for 2 minutes and pouring off the juices. Bake, roast, or stir-fry as grilling and barbecuing triggers the most toxins. Flipping meat over every minute is helpful and discards pan drippings.

So what will I do? I’m always wary of large studies of tens of thousands of people relying largely on “association” rather than solid facts. For instance, the sun rises every morning and we all get out of bed, but this is strictly an “association.”

Until all research has been completed I’ll follow “Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Golden Mean,” namely moderation. Also, with so many daily pitfalls and threats facing us, eating red meat now and then is one of the lesser evils. So, waiter, “Yes, I want my steak blue, and don’t forget the red wine.”

Dr. Gifford-Jones is a medical journalist with a private medical practice in Toronto. His website is DocGiff.com. He may be contacted at info@docgiff.com.

W. Gifford-Jones
W. Gifford-Jones