I was just sipping my coffee early Sunday morning when the headlines of the news on in the background made me double take a sideways glance at my bacon cob (definitely a "cob" btw)
"Oh jeeze... here we go again!"
OK, so a few months ago the WHO (the World health organisation) published a report based on a study linking the consumption of Red meat and processed red meat to an increase in the risk of Cancer.
Since that study was done a few things have happened.
1. The study was published
2. Some people read the study
3. Some people jumped (or rather made a giant leap) to a conclusion
4. Media got wind of study and various conclusions
5. Media writes article based on diluted information dressed as facts
6. People start running to the hills in fear from meat to join the glutenites
So what did the study actually say?
Red meat was classified as group 2A, "is probably carcinogenic to humans"
"Wait... carcinogenic? You mean a sirloin steak, what do you mean probably!?!?"
What does that mean?
Here's what the WHO has to say.
"In the case of red meat, the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing Colorectal Cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out."
OK, so there appears to be an association between eating red meat and Colorectal Cancer.
But a few things to consider:
- An association has been observed.
- The evidence is limited.
- Other explanations could not be ruled out.
So the report shows there is a small correlation but admit that it might not be the cause, not too convincing either way so far.
This is where it gets a little messy in the media and people jump to conclusions one way or another. As you have very strong arguments for both sides of the discussion and very strong opinions too. You have the pro meat eaters, like those who's lively hoods depend on consumption of meat (and maybe bodybuilders too) and you also have those against the slaughter of animals and consumption of meat or those who have a vested interest in a vegetarian ideology.
Each side has a valid argument and since the data regarding red meat shows a correlation but no real evidence of a cause this leaves interpretation and the ability for either side to see the study from their own point of view that enhance their own beliefs.
So you can read the study and it will strengthen your resolve no matter whether you're a meat lover or a vegetarian.
Lets aim to take bias away or at least try to and look logically as jumping to either conclusion serves no one.
This may demonstrate how the data does not always tie in with the facts.
You've probably seen this one...
The above image demonstrates how easily a very definite link can be drawn up.
Although I have no doubt that however awful a Nic Cage film could get, it isn't (at least I hope) the causative factor for drowning via falling into a pool.
This one I can't be certain...
As you have probably guessed, many things correlate with each other, but just because there is a correlation does not mean there is a linked causative effect.
So what could possibly be causing the link?
It's likely multifactoral, there are many habits that add up to create bad habits as a detriment to over-all health.
Well here's a post I shared from Lyle Mcdonald
I think he states the logic of it well.
"Typical high processed meat diet = lots of fatty red meat overcooked. Minimal fruit and veggies. Stress, alcohol, smoking, no exercise, excess bodyfat. Of course it's unhealthy. In the context of the other half a dozen bad health habits.
Typical lean red meat diet = lean red meat, lean people, exercise, plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Bad health habits almost always cluster together.
So do good habits.
Trying to isolate out a single bad health habit among a string of them is a losing battle and the research showing that LEAN red meat improves health, that meat has a number of importance health and ANTI-CANCER nutrients are numerous.
MULTI-FACTORIAL. Everyone needs this tatted on their head.
No, I am NOT saying that processed meats are healthy. I am saying that the jump from highly processed meats to ALL meats is as dumb as the jump from high-fat diets to ALL fats. Meats are not a single category of foods. There are lean meats, fatty meats and everything in-between. They have different effects and read this carefully
HEALTH IS NEITHER AN ON-OFF SWITCH NOR CAN ANY SINGLE FOOD BE CONSIDERED OUTSIDE OF THE CONTEXT OF THE ENTIRE LIFESTYLE"
Habits and eating patterns do cluster together, thats very true and its likely that the higher the cluster of bad health habits the higher the risk factor.
Lets look at some clusters...
Eat red meat
Eat meat + red meat + fatty red meats
Eat meat + red meat + fatty red meats + processed meat
Eat meat + red meat + fatty red meats + processed meat + overcooking
Eat meat + red meat + fatty red meats + processed meat + overcooking + alcohol, smoking and stress and any other bad habits.
Whats the one factor thats in all clusters? It's the red meat, but its pretty obvious where the highest risk of disease lies. Its in the area with highest cluster of bad habits.
But meat and red meat can be at each level amongst clusters of health habits too...
Eat red meat
Eat meat + red meat + vegetables and fruit
Eat meat + red meat + vegetables and fruit + drink plenty water
Eat meat + red meat + vegetables and fruit + drink plenty water + exercise regularly
Eat meat + red meat + vegetables and fruit + drink plenty water + exercise regularly + spend time with friends and family de-stressing
So it appears looking at the above there is also a correlation between red meat and health, but once again the highest cluster of good habits lead to the greatest results.
And remember that lean meat and specifically red meat - defined as beef, veal, pork and lamb, which is fresh, minced or frozen – is a source of high quality protein and micronutrients.
Beef and lamb provide more than 30% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin B3 (niacin), B12 (cyanocobalamin) and zinc. and 15% or more of the RDA - of iron, potassium and phosphorous. Beef together with whole milk and dairy is also one of the only sources for conjugated linoleic acid (CLAs) family.(CLAs are the only natural fatty acids accepted by the National Academy of Sciences of USA as exhibiting consistent antitumor properties at levels as low as 0.25 – 1.0 per cent of total fats)
Pork is rich in vitamin B1 (thiamin).
Meat (particularly from grass-fed animals) can be an important source of omega 3 fatty acids that help lower the risk of inflammatory conditions and even cognitive based conditions such as depression and dementia in later life.
red meat in particular is very important source of Iron - of particular importance to females
So it seems red meat got linked with processed meat and its very easy to jump from processed meats to all meats, and this is what happened likely to red meat.
Red meat was that nice kid in class who got caught up in the wrong crowd and took the blame along with the rest of them for selling fags to the year sevens!
It took a pasting just because it hung around with the wrong kids in the playground!
But of course they are not the same, there is a fundamental difference between red meat and processed high fat, reformed, additive and chemical laden processed meats.
It would appear that red meat may be a marker of risk but not a risk factor itself.
But does processed meat deserve the "bad kid" title? - according to the WHO processed meat does appear to at least deserve looking at.
Processed meat got a group 1 classification, meaning carcinogenic to humans. Whereas red meat got the "probably" because there was a link but no cause found.
But the processed meat got classified in the same category as Tobacco smoking and asbestos... oh yeah, and plutonium.
And again this is where those giant leaps take place, although processed meat has been classified in the same category (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans) as tobacco smoking and asbestos, it doesn't mean they are equally as dangerous.
The WHO state "IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk."
So can we still eat our bacon or what?
Well even though the processed meat was slung in that group category there is still a little controversy. Since the WHO used data from observational studies where the participants where asked to describe their dietary habits, and we all know how accurately everyone records that...
But i'm not going to go into the reliability of the data used in the study, that requires another article.
The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.
Although its in the same category it doesn't have the same risk factor associated, the WHO state that "the consumption of processed meat was associated with small increases in the risk of cancer in the studies reviewed. In those studies, the risk generally increased with the amount of meat consumed."
Once again it would appear that the devil is in the dose.......AGAIN.
All in moderation for the win!
If you consistently cluster together bad choices and poor health habits then of course this risk rises.
Begin to cluster together those positive health habits and reap the rewards.
- Eat a balance of all Foods including meat and fish
- Fruit, veg and fibre
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat mindfully - don't eat too much or eat too little, better yet track your macros or at least try it.
- Be active, play sport, or strength train.
- Eat bacon sandwiches every now and again
- Better yet do it all in good company
If I have to so the devil is in the dose again...
Balance really is key.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) versus saturated fats/cholesterol: their proportion in fatty and lean meats may affect the risk of developing colon cancerAldo R Eynard* and Cristina B Lopez