Saturday, October 20, 2007

Eating meat and being healthy

I'm confused

Growing up I always believed that the best diet consisted of meat and 3 veges. Sometimes we might have fish, sometimes chicken - but usually red meat.

Last year, after hearing the publicity surrounding the CSIRO Wellbeing Diet book, I thought this confirmed my belief that red meat was good for - the book recommends lean red meat four times per week, fish twice per week and chicken once per week. I've been following the CSIRO diet believing that, not only will I be able to manage my weight, but also be healthy which is of course my primary interest. The CSIRO was criticized for having too much red meat in the diet however stood by the book and red meat quota.

I was very surprised when I read an article/transcript on the ABC Health website at

In particular when I read "Vegetarians are generally a healthy bunch. Compared to meat eaters, they have less heart disease and cancer, lower blood pressure – and they're slimmer"

I found this amazing as it is contrary to everything I have heard - in fact I always thought that vegetarians were unhealthy - and needed to supplement their diet with meat substitutes to keep up with meat eaters. But this article not only says they are healthier that meat eaters but they have less disease and cancer!

Another quote from the article "What's more, red meat – which includes pork but not chicken – has been linked to a slightly higher risk of some cancers. And for processed meats like sausages – along with bacon, ham and salami – the cancer link is stronger ... What's not known is whether there's something in red meat that causes cancer or whether eating meat means there's less room in your diet for other foods that might help prevent cancer. It might be a bit of both."

This piqued my interest so further google searching found this article at which in part says "regular meat eaters are significantly more likely to develop bowel cancer", says that "diets high in red meat are associated with a slight increase in risk of bowel cancer", says that "Vegetarians are about 40 percent less likely to get cancer than nonvegetarians, regardless of other risks such as smoking, body size, and socioeconomic status."

Even more worrying is this entry in Wikipedia at

"Recent studies indicate that red meat could pose a notable increase in cancer risk. Some studies have linked consumption of large amounts of red meat with breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer and prostate cancer. Professor Sheila Bingham of the Dunn Human Nutrition Unit attributes this to the haemoglobin and myoglobin molecules which are found in red meat. She suggests these molecules, when ingested trigger a process called nitrosation in the gut which leads to the formation of carcinogens. Overall, the relative risk of developing a fatal cancer in non meat-eaters is 0.91 compared to people who eat red meat regularly.

Eating cooked red meat may increase the likelihood of cancer because carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines are created during the cooking process. Heterocyclic amines may not explain why red meat is more harmful than other meat, however, as these compounds are also found in poultry and fish, which have not been linked to an increased cancer risk."

What's also amazing is that many foundations are saying that as these theories are still just theories then restricting meat to smaller serves and no more than 3 - 4 serves per week is OK .... This sounds like spin doctoring to me - maybe catering to the meat industry?

I'm confused