Its been speculated for some time..that eating red meat leads to an increased incidence of heart disease and cancer. And an analysis, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, using data from two studies that involved 121,342 men and women, further confirms the fact that consuming red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease; and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk.
People who ate more red meat were less physically active and more likely to smoke and had a higher body mass index, researchers found. Still, after controlling for those and other variables, they found that each daily increase of three ounces of red meat was associated with a 12 percent greater risk of dying over all, including a 16 percent greater risk of cardiovascular death and a 10 percent greater risk of cancer death.
The increased risks linked to processed meat, like bacon, were even greater: 20 percent over all, 21 percent for cardiovascular disease and 16 percent for cancer.
You might say that you had suspected this all along, but the new results suggest a surprisingly strong link and further reinforce this conclusion.
The modus operandi for red meats and heart disease is quite clear-cut: the high saturated fats content leads to cholesterol deposition in the walls of the arteries. In the case of cancer, the mode of action is less clear-cut. Some postulated causes include:
- the presence of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in grass-fed meat which has anti-cancer properties.
- the mode of cooking, with preference to ‘low and slow’ and doneness.
- chemicals (nitro compounds) used in preservation of processed meats.
- breakdown of blood components like haem to harmful cancer-causing chemicals (read more here).
This probably why meat-eating countries like Argentina do not report high incidences of gut cancer..
The mainstream media was awash yesterday with articles proclaiming that the Western diet raises the risk of getting a heart attack. Whether it was the BBC, AFP, ABC or Reuters, they all described a study where 16,000 people in 52 countries were studied according to what they ate and their risk of getting a heart attack.
The study categorised their dietary patterns into 3 groups:
- The Western Diet – emphasis on salty snacks,fried foods, and to a lesser extent, meat.
- The Oriental Diet- high on tofu and soy products, including soy sauce.
- The Prudent Diet- rich in fruits and veggies.
It wasn’t a surprise to find out that those on the Western Diet had a 35% greater risk of getting a heart attack whereas those on the Prudent Diet had a 33% lowering of the risk. The researchers gave a neutral score for the Oriental Diet as they felt that the salt in soy sauce neutralised the protective effects of soya.
My criticism of this study is that it oversimplifies matters concerning eating habits and tends to give the impression that fruits and vegetables are the perfect solution and that all Western diet are bad.
The fact of the matter is, whether you are in Maine, Mumbai or Malaysia, you need to reduce salty, oily, fried or fatty foods,period. The style of cooking is what matters. That includes reducing the intake of fried veggies in favour of raw or lightly blanched styles. Taking fried kai-lan in oyster sauce will only serve to destroy the protective effects of the veggies. Similarly, a lean cut of grilled tenderloin is much better than pan-fried rib-eye, if taken in moderation, due to the lower fat content.
In today’s egalitarian society, its certainly not heartening to note that heart attacks are no longer an affliction of only the rich, perhaps a reflection of improper eating habits irrespective of social status. Heart disease is a problem that needs to be addressed by all strata of society – and this begins with you being what you eat.