Is red meat bad? (Part II – IGF-1, risk of cancer and more)

Is meat bad for you

Let’s continue our discussion that we started in Part I and see if there really is any association between meat and cancer.

It’s different if you already have a pathology

It is often implied that high-protein diet causes damage to your kidneys by “overloading” them with nitrogen by-products of protein digestion (that they naturally metabolise and excrete) – but as a healthy individual, you will have difficulty overconsuming protein, since your body has natural regulatory mechanisms that drive the desire for protein-containing foods.  So you are unlikely to ever eat too much.

But is it correct to say that eating any amount will put a strain on your kidneys?  Should you specifically reduce protein consumption to avoid damaging them?

The answer is – very unlikely.  If you already have a kidney disease – increased protein consumption can definitely contribute to their pathology.  But if you are healthy – you probably don’t have anything to worry about (read this article by Chris Kesser).

Methionine

Meat contains a complex array of several amino acids.  One of these amino acids is methionine – and recent studies have suggested that it’s this specific amino acid that may be responsible for increased oxidative stress and the ultimate link between meat, IGF-1 (see below) and cancer.

If you recall our discussion on organ meats – you will remember that methionine is balanced by glycine – another amino acid contained in large amount in bone broth, gelatin and organ meats – which helps your body metabolize and neutralize potential harmful effects of methionine. What follows is that if you balance your intake of methionine with your intake of glycine (by consuming collagen/gelatin, organ meats, bone broth, etc.) – potential harmful effects of overconsuming muscle meat can be greatly reduced.

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Is red meat bad for you? (Part I – gathering the facts)

Red meat slices

What you might miss in studies that claim red meat causes cancer

A lot of people who are attempting to eat healthy are searching for an answer to a question that seems to bother vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike – is red meat bad for you?

At first glance it seems to be a no-brainer.  You will find quite a few studies and experiments proving that red meat causes all sorts of bad things – high blood cholesterol, cancer (specifically colon, prostate and breast cancer), high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and more.

So many studies can’t be wrong, can they?  Should you be worried?

Well, as with many things, it’s the little details and subtleties of the research behind these grand statements that make all the difference.  Most people do not care (or do not bother to verify) whether conclusions made by research were based on relationships that are causative (when a disease is a direct result of one specific and tightly controlled variable) or associative (where disease isn’t necessarily caused by a specific variable, but is merely  associated with it – with no regard given to other important co-variables).

Most people do not read into the details of such research papers.  Ask them a question “why is red meat bad?” and, most of the time, you will hear some mumbling without any specific reference to studies, reports or conclusions.  They will cite some vague reports that eating meat causes cancer, point to some poorly designed study republished by tabloids that links meat consumption and health decline and even refer to their doctor, who also “recommends limiting the intake of red meat” (and, probably, as ironic as it is – doesn’t mind recommending some “whole grains”, instead).  Or, they will pull out their biggest gun and refer to “The China study”, which, on the surface, seems to have delivered a significant blow to the “omnivore human” theory and converted many thousands of scared adults into vegetarianism.

Except – those little details hidden behind smoke screens and marketing messages matter a lot.  In fact, they are the details that can make or break the whole case – and understanding them and using them to arrive at your own conclusions may prevent you from fatal errors that have a profound impact on your health.

Is meat bad for you?  You can make your own call in the end after looking at all the facts below.  Without diving too deep into any religious restrictions or ethical dilemmas (we have briefly discussed these in a previous article on veganism, let’s just see why some people believe meat is bad for you is and whether the data they are using holds up to scrutiny.

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Being vegan: facts beyond the marketing hype

Vegan diet

In case you’ve been living in a bubble last 10 years or so – there is a huge vegan movement going on in a lot of countries that is changing the way people eat, dress and even choose regular consumer products.  Veganism is taking the world by storm.  The web is full of vegan recipes, publishers – big and small – produce hundreds of huge vegan cookbooks, vegan restaurants pop up even in the most remote areas and, vegan diets are considered by many the healthiest alternative of the modern day.

The majority of people however, seduced by the widely advertised allure of healthy eating, lack of animal cruelty and other general benefits jump on the bandwagon without fully understanding true impact on health, limitations and consequences – which is very unfortunate, because most sources are not telling you the full story.

What happens to your body when you go vegan, or even vegetarian?  Why do vegan diets continue to be popular and what makes unsuspecting converts believe that they are doing the right thing?  Is there a flip side that you do not know about?

Let’s take a look at a few facts – and you can decide for yourself.

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The Ultimate Guide to Eating Better Meat (Part III) – six reasons to eat organ meats

(Continued from Part I and Part II)

When modern cultures talk about “meat”, they usually mean muscle meat – the tenderloins, roasts, shoulders, strip loins, and T-bones we can all buy in stores.  But this wasn’t always the case.  In fact, as early as only about 100 years ago, the same modern cultures happily consumed organ meats, bone broths and even blood.  And although some traditional recipes still make use of these, the concept is generally not very well received.  Unless you specifically look for them, organ meats are hard to come by in conventional stores and regular recipe books don’t describe many ways to cook them.

This is very unfortunate, because organ meats are extremely beneficial for your health.  Several observational studies of Indigenous people (probably the most widely known is a series of studies by Weston A. Price) have demonstrated that non-industrialized cultures regularly consuming organ meats have significantly lower occurrence of cancer and degenerative diseases, as well as longer life span.  This makes sense, given how many nutrients organ meats can pack. If you care about your health – you’d better work those into your diet.  Let’s look at what makes them so exceptional, to provide you some encouragement.

It is unlikely that ancient hunter-gatherer tribes – or even our ancestors as recently as 100 years ago, unless you come from a lineage of particularly affluent individuals – would have been able to afford throwing away or otherwise passing on an opportunity to consume whatever nutritious food they could lay their hands on.  Abundance of food in the last several decades and animal farming on industrial scale shifted the focus towards muscle meats as “higher-class” food that was now more affordable and available.

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The Ultimate Guide to Eating Better Meat – Part II

(Continued from Part I – Buyer’s Guide)

Part II – Food safety, poisoning, and how to cook meat the right way

 

Disclaimer: 

The risks of food poisoning due to improper cooking – especially for certain susceptible groups of people – are real and consumption of undercooked food may lead to serious illness or, certain cases, death. This article does not constitute and is not intended to be used as medical, microbiological, or any other advice.  While the topics discussed in this article appear to have been researched and supported by various scientific sources, make sure you understand them and thoroughly research this topic further, prior to making any changes in your dietary habits.  Due to many variables affecting the risk of contamination, the author of this article does not guarantee that following the recommendations in this article completely eliminate the risk of food poisoning. Further, the author does not accept any responsibility for any health issues that may result from following the advice presented in this article.

Meat usually requires some sort of preparation to lower one (or all) of the following potential risks:

  • Parasitic worms
  • Viral infection
  • Plasmids
  • Prions
  • Bacterial contamination
  • Protist infection

Of all these, viral infection (led by Norovirus) remains the most prevalent in terms of the number of cases (according to estimates made in 1999 by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), but these cases are usually mild and, while being responsible for about 68% of all food-related illnesses, the related death rate remains at about 7%. Even though illnesses attributed to protists amount to only about 3%, the death rate is about 20%, while bacteria, responsible for about 30% of all food poisoning are responsible for about 72% of fatalities.  These statistics make bacteria the highest-risk microorganism that may cause foodborne illnesses.  So we will make bacteria the center of our discussion.

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The ultimate guide to eating better meat (Part I – Buyer’s Guide)

Unless you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you probably get a lot of your usual macronutrients from meat, poultry or fish.  When non-vegetarians hear the word “protein” they usually think “meat” – and rightfully so: beef, for example, packs the largest protein content by volume, compared to other sources – about 26 grams of protein per 100 grams meat.  Lamb has a similar and sometimes even slightly higher protein content.  Compare this to protein content per 100g for the usual sources of vegetarian proteins – 16g for chia seeds, 12g for cottage cheese, 5g for kidney beans, 4g for quinoa, 2g for white rice, etc.  In fact, pretty much the only non-animal food that can compare to beef in terms of protein content is hemp seeds, with about the same percentage (25-26%), which, does, however contain high amounts (80%) of polyunsaturated fatty acids, with Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 3:1 (we’ve covered the importance of this ratio and the info on PUFAs in this article).

If you are an athlete or simply exercise regularly using resistance training, if you are a bodybuilder or someone recovering from surgery, if you are malnourished for whatever reason and trying to bring your weight back up – you will inevitably find yourself consuming meat.  Or so you should, given that maintaining a quality vegetarian diet without compromising your health is extremely hard and a lot of vegetarians fill in the space made by excluding meat with very questionable products.  But, the danger of vegetarianism and veganism will be a topic for future discussion.  On the contrary, today we will talk about meat.

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