By Samantha Heller MS RD
Is red meat, processed meat and foods containing saturated fat really as unhealthy as they say? The answer is no. The fact is red and processed meats and saturated fat are far worse for your health than the meat and dairy industry want you to know. Ethical and environmental issues aside, all you have to do is take a look at the scientific literature (studies done on humans not on animals or in test tubes) and it reveals irrefutable evidence that consuming animal foods and processed foods high in saturated fats in the quantities we eat them can be deadly over time. Even the United States Department of Agriculture, a government organization and a rather conservative one at that, recommends that people eat less animal foods and begin a shift towards a more plant based diet. http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=9246
Research is finding that diets high in red meat and/or processed meats may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes1, colorectal cancer2, 3, mortality4, coronary heart disease5, breast cancer6, 7, esophageal, liver and lung cancers8 and chronic obstructive lung disease9. Red meat and other animal foods are high in saturated fat which increases internal inflammation10, serum cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and arterial inflammation11 and dysfunction12.
• Scientists have found an association between dietary saturated fats, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease13 and an increased decline in cognitive function14.
• Saturated fat has been associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis15-17 and diabetes18 and may increase fat storage in your abdomen19, 20 (commonly referred to as ab flab). Ab flab in and of itself increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
• Studies have shown that eating red meat may increase the risk of colorectal cancer21-24, lung cancer (irrespective of smoking status)25, and has been linked to prostate cancer26.
• Recent studies show that red meat intake is associated with metabolic syndrome, stroke, cognitive decline and age related macular degeneration27-30.
• A study of over 500,000 people found that people who ate the most red and processed meats had a higher risk of mortality, cancer and cardiovascular disease31 than those who ate lesser amounts of these foods.
What does it mean?
Succinctly put: we eat too much meat: beef, steak, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, pork, lamb, ham, salami, hot dogs etc, butter, cheese, ice cream etc. Case in point:
• The average intake of meat in the U.S. in 2002 was 200 pounds per person, 23 pounds higher than in 197032
• American’s eat on average 33 pounds of cheese per person a year33
• In 2004 Americans consumed over 1.3 million pounds of butter34
Our bodies are not designed to handle such titanic amounts of saturated fat, processed or red meat. Our bodies do not know we can order pizza 24/7 or go to a store filled with food any time we want. Our bodies still believe we need to run out each morning and catch breakfast. Thus drowning our systems with animal foods day after day leads to physiological dysfunction and disease.
Scientists have not pin pointed a single cause because there are probably a myriad of biochemical reasons why the human body cannot tolerate a constant assault of bad fat and meat. Researchers are looking into how meat is processed, the iron content and other variables that may contribute to the deleterious effects of meat. Some mechanisms have been identified for example, how saturated fat depresses LDL (bad) cholesterol receptors on hepatic and other cells leading to an increase in serum cholesterol35, but there remains much to be done in the scientific arena.
What you can do to protect your health starting today
Cut back on your intake of meat and other animal foods: how often you eat them and your portion size when you choose to eat them. Start experimenting with beans, soy, nuts and nut butters such as peanut, almond and cashew butter, and low or non-fat dairy (low or non-fat means much of the saturated fat has been removed). There are many delicious, easy to make vegetarian dishes including vegetarian chili, pasta primavera, veggie burgers, hummus in pita with chopped cukes & tomatoes, edamame-vegetable succotash and hearty lentil soup. Do your body a favor by going meatless and cheeseless at least a few days a week. Chances are you will lose pounds, gain energy and feel revitalized. Your body will thank you year after healthy year.
1. Fung TT, Schulze M, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Dietary patterns, meat intake, and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Archives of Internal Medicine 2004;164:2235-40.
2. Fung T, Hu FB, Fuchs C, et al. Major dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancer in women. Archives of Internal Medicine 2003;163:309-14.
3. Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Ascherio A, Willett WC. Intake of Fat, Meat, and Fiber in Relation to Risk of Colon Cancer in Men. Cancer Res 1994;54:2390-7.
4. Cai H, Shu XO, Gao Y-T, Li H, Yang G, Zheng W. A prospective study of dietary patterns and mortality in Chinese women. Epidemiology 2007;18:393-401.
5. Hu FB, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Ascherio A, Spiegelman D, Willett WC. Prospective study of major dietary patterns and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72:912-21.
6. Cho E, Chen WY, Hunter DJ, et al. Red meat intake and risk of breast cancer among premenopausal women. Archives of Internal Medicine 2006;166:2253-9.
7. Cui X, Dai Q, Tseng M, Shu X-O, Gao Y-T, Zheng W. Dietary Patterns and Breast Cancer Risk in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2007;16:1443-8.
8. Cross AJ, Leitzmann MF, Gail MH, Hollenbeck AR, Schatzkin A, Sinha R. A Prospective Study of Red and Processed Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk. PLoS Medicine 2007;4:e325.
9. Varraso R, Fung TT, Barr RG, Hu FB, Willett W, Camargo CA, Jr. Prospective study of dietary patterns and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among US women. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:488-95.
10. Esposito K, Giugliano D. Diet and inflammation: a link to metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Eur Heart J %R 101093/eurheartj/ehi605 2006;27:15-20.
11. Pirro Matteo, Schillaci Giusepps, Savarese Gianluca, et al. Attenutation of inflammation with short-term dietary intervention is associated with a reduction of arterial stiffness in subjects with hypercholesterolaemia. European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation 2004;11:497-502.
12. Keogh JB, Grieger JA, Noakes M, Clifton PM. Flow-mediated dilatation is impaired by a high-saturated fat diet but not by a high-carbohydrate diet. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis & Vascular Biology 2005;25:1274-9.
13. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Dietary Fats and the Risk of Incident Alzheimer Disease. Arch Neurol 2003;60:194-200.
14. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Tangney CC, Wilson RS. Dietary fat intake and 6-year cognitive change in an older biracial community population. Neurology 2004;62:1573-9.
15. Mustad VA, Etherton TD, Cooper AD, et al. Reducing saturated fat intake is associated with increased levels of LDL receptors on mononuclear cells in healthy men and women. Journal of Lipid Research 1997;38:459-68.
16. Kurzweil R. Live Forever. Psychology Today 2000;33:66.
17. Merchant AT, Kelemen LE, de Koning L, et al. Interrelation of saturated fat, trans fat, alcohol intake, and subclinical atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:168-74.
18. Wang L, Folsom AR, Zheng Z-J, Pankow JS, Eckfeldt JH. Plasma fatty acid composition and incidence of diabetes in middle-aged adults: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78:91-8.
19. Sung Jidong, DeRegis Jamie R, Bacher Anita C, et al. Lower Dietary Polyunsaturated to Saturated Fat Ratio Is Associated With Increased Visceral Adiposity. In: American College of Cardiology Annual Meeting Lipids–Clinical and Prevention; 2003 March 30; Chicago. Absrtact; 2003. p. Abstract.
20. Hays NP, Starling RD, Liu X, et al. Effects of an ad libitum low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet on body weight, body composition, and fat distribution in older men and women: a randomized controlled trial.[see comment]. Archives of Internal Medicine 2004;164:210-7.
21. Chao AP, Thun MJMDMS, Connell CJMPH, et al. Meat Consumption and Risk of Colorectal Cancer. JAMA 2005;293:172-82.
22. Lewin MH, Bailey N, Bandaletova T, et al. Red Meat Enhances the Colonic Formation of the DNA Adduct O6-Carboxymethyl Guanine: Implications for Colorectal Cancer Risk. Cancer Res 2006;66:1859-65.
23. Norat T, Bingham S, Ferrari P, et al. Meat, Fish, and Colorectal Cancer Risk: The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. J Natl Cancer Inst 2005;97:906-16.
24. Jenab M, Ferrari P, Slimani N, et al. Association of Nut and Seed Intake with Colorectal Cancer Risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004;13:1595-603.
25. Alavanja MC, Field RW, Sinha R, et al. Lung cancer risk and red meat consumption among Iowa women. Lung Cancer 2001;34:37-46.
26. Kushi L, Giovannucci E. Dietary fat and cancer. American Journal of Medicine 2002;113 Suppl 9B:63S-70S.
27. Eskelinen Marjo H, Ngandu Tiia, Helkala Eeva-Liisa, et al. Fat intake at midlife and cognitive impairment later in life: a population-based CAIDE study. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2008;23:741-7.
28. Yamagishi K, Iso H, Yatsuya H, et al. Dietary intake of saturated fatty acids and mortality from cardiovascular disease in Japanese: the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study for Evaluation of Cancer Risk (JACC) Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;92:759-65.
29. Azadbakht L, Esmaillzadeh A. Red Meat Intake Is Associated with Metabolic Syndrome and the Plasma C-Reactive Protein Concentration in Women. J Nutr 2009;139:335-9.
30. Chong EWT, Simpson JA, Robman LD, et al. Red Meat and Chicken Consumption and Its Association With Age-related Macular Degeneration. American Journal of Epidemiology 2009;169:867-76.
31. Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A. Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People. Arch Intern Med 2009;169:562-71.
32. American Heart Association, American Stroke Association. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics — 2008 Update. Our Guide to Current Statistics and the Supplement To Our Heart and Stroke Facts. Dallas: American Heart Association, American Stroke Association; 2008 2008.
33. United States Department of Agriculture. Long-term growth in U.S. cheese consumption may slow. In: Davis Christopher G, Blaybey Don P, Dong Diansheng, Stefanova Stela, eds. Washington D.C.: Economic Research Service/USDA; 2010.
34. Understanding Dairy Markets: Sales and Consumption. Agriculltural and Applied Economics, 2010. (Accessed at http://future.aae.wisc.edu/tab/sales.html.)
35. Schaefer EJ. Lipoproteins, nutrition, and heart disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75:191-212.