Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fear of Red Meat

Sometimes I get sent articles or blog posts that have so much misconstrued information that I don't even know where to start.  Alert reader Matthew sent me this blog post: Processed Meats Declared Too Dangerous for Human Consumption.  I'll just try to start at the begining and take it from there.

Most people who enjoy my blog and skeptical viewpoints in general would probably take one look at the name "Dreamhealer" and pretty much stop reading right there as that doesn't exactly state "scienctific information to be given here."  If you did continue on to the first paragraph, you find a another red flag in this statement: "[The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) states] Consumers should stop buying and eating all processed meat products for the rest of their lives."   This kind of definitive statement is not usually found in scientific proclamations, as most scientists are aware that whatever conclusions are drawn, someone is working equally hard to disprove it.  And you can actually go to the WCRF website, and with a few clicks (and registration for a detailed report), you will find that they didn't actually say that.  What they did say is that there is convincing evidence that overconsumption of red and processed meat could increase your risk for colon cancer (note, just colon cancer), and that their recommendations are that people limit red meat consumption and consume very little processed meat. (Link here and you can register to download information on full recommendations and the studies that they have evaluated).  Keep in mind also, that the studies that are being evaluated are observational and not the rigorous double-blind studies that you really should have before starting to make recommendations.  We still need observational studies because of the ethics involved in doing dietary double blind studies on humans, but once again, they indicate there is a correlation (and opportunity for future research) and not necessarily a causation.  I always want to nitpick about any differences between feedlot beef and grass-fed beef, but not everyone has ready access to grass fed beef, etc, either.

The next couple paragraphs speak of the evils of nitrites, but the evidence about this is still inconclusive as well (Link).  As a matter of fact, there is research being done in regards to nitrites, including the inorganic type, as a possible treatment for blood pressure (Link).  Of course when substances are being studied to determine their impact on human physiology the researches will use standardized doses of said substance, which is different than people randomly consuming pastrami (and then later forgetting to report it), but there is an indication that nitrites might not be all bad if you watch the amounts.  (And by the way, the whole "processed meat and pancreatic cancer" story was apparently inconclusive as well, as indicated here.  After you look over that, you might want to amuse yourself by looking at another complete misrepresentation here.)

There was also an attempt to sneak in a commentary on the evils of MSG as well.  Michael over at SkepticalRaptor has already covered this here and here.  Feeling lazy about following links?  The title of the second link, "MSG-fussing about nothing" should some that one up pretty well.

I will add in here that I often have to counsel my patients that they need to limit processed meat because I work with a lot of heart failure and kidney failure patients; the more processed anything they eat (including starches) the more likely they are to retain fluid, and have to be given larger doses of diuretics, etc.  If they can eat in such a way that they don't need more medication I would like to help them do so.

Now, I would like to think that all of us are rational all the time, but I know that if you have a family history of colon cancer and/or pacreatic cancer it can be very easy to get more than a little panicky about "news" like this.  So how might you find a balance?
1) Get variety.  Chicken, fish, eggs, game (including buffalo) have protein too, so if you have access to those sources, use them.  If you tolerate vegetarian protein sources you can work those in as well.
2) Stay within your protein needs as I outlined in this post.
3) If you are on a carb controlled plan and/or making sure you get some fat at each meal for satiety, there are other fats besides bacon (I know you are shocked.  I will wait while you clutch your pearls and faint).  I like the taste of avocado on an omelette myself.
4) You can also buy jerky, bacon, lunchmeat, etc that is free of inorganic nitrites/nitrates if you are still leery.  Be prepared to pay more for it, but it is an option.

Take home message--Not overconsuming processed meats is probably a good idea, just like not overconsuming anything is a good idea.  Get a variety of protein sources instead of only from processed meat.

No comments:

Post a Comment