Doctor’s Tip: Health concerns about eating meat
As a reminder, the purpose of these columns is to empower people to take control of their own health destiny. This is the fourth in a series about why certain foods should be avoided for optimal health. The first three were about oil, eggs and dairy.
For decades scientists have been aware of data linking meat intake (beef, lamb/mutton, pork, poultry) to a higher incidence of obesity; hypertension; high cholesterol; cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes); inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis; autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis; dementia including Alzheimer’s; and several forms of cancer.
Recently various medical organizations have been telling us to limit our intake of meat and ideally to avoid it altogether. The World Health Organization has declared red and processed meat (ham, bacon, hot dogs, sausage, lunch meat) to be class one carcinogens. An editorial in a recent American Family Physician journal had the following title: “Eating Less Meat: A Healthy and Environmentally Responsible Dietary Choice.”
The information for this column was obtained from several sources, including “How Not to Die” and nutritionfacts.org by Michael Greger, M.D.; “The End of Heart Disease” by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.; Nutrition Action, published by the Center For Science in the Public Interest; and various communications from Neal Barnard, M.D., founding president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Here are some of the health concerns associated with eating meat:
1. In 2012 the results from two large Harvard studies indicated that consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat was associated with an increased risk of dying from heart disease and cancer, and an increased risk of early death.
2. Meat contains saturated and trans fats, which cause your liver to make more LDL (bad cholesterol), which in turn contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), the cause of heart attacks and strokes.
3. A meat-based diet is acidic and causes generalized inflammation. And it inflames the endothelium, the delicate organ that lines our arteries, which contributes to cardiovascular disease.
4. One-third of Americans older than 64 have chronic kidney disease, and protein and fat from meat contribute to this condition.
5. Eating poultry increases the risk of blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, perhaps due to avian viruses.
6. Often salt and water are injected into poultry and other meat carcasses to increase weight (meat is usually sold based on weight), and salt contributes to hypertension. This injected meat can still be labeled as “100 percent natural.”
7. Unhealthy artificial dyes are often added to meat to improve appearance.
8. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are a carcinogen formed when beef, pork and poultry are cooked at high temperatures (pan frying, grilling, baking), resulting in an increased risk of cancer of the breast, colon, esophagus, lung, pancreas, prostate and stomach.
9. Farm animals and poultry are often injected with antibiotics, which contributes to antibiotic resistance; and with hormones that disrupt our normal human hormones.
10. Heme iron in the blood and muscle of animals causes free radicals, which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Iron from vegetables (whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, green leafy vegetables) don’t do this because absorption of non-heme (plant) iron is controlled by a feedback mechanism that limits absorption if iron levels are adequate.
11. Salmonella and other harmful bacteria are present in uncooked meat, and can get on your kitchen counter and cooking utensils. Parasites can be present in meat, such as toxoplasmosis in pork. In 2014 Consumer Reports asserted that 97 percent of chicken breasts in grocery stores, 88 percent of ground beef, and 80 percent of pork chops are contaminated with animal fecal matter.
12. Compared to plants, meat contains 14 times the amount of pesticides and other environmental toxins, because meat is at the top of the food chain. People with the highest levels of pollutants in their blood have 38 times the risk of diabetes.
13. Meat contains no fiber, which is important for optimal health.
14. Animal protein triggers production of IGF1 (insulin growth factor), which in adults causes cancer cells to form and to spread.
15. Animal proteins in meat contribute to formation of kidney stones.
16. Red meat eaters have bacteria in their gut microbiomes that convert carnitine in meat to TMAO, which causes heart disease.
17. Clearly the environmental impact associated with raising a pound of beef is huge compared to a pound of, say, kale.
18. Watch the documentary “Food Inc.” to see the ethical problems with treatment of animals in factory farming.
Still not convinced? If you’re going to continue to eat meat, wild game is the best because although it has cholesterol, it has much less cholesterol-raising saturated fat. Buying locally grown meat addresses some of the environmental and the ethical treatment of animals concerns but still leaves the health concerns.
Why isn’t this information more widely disseminated? Big Food is a huge lobby. It tries to cast doubt on established science, has an undue influence on governmental committees and bodies, influences the mass media, and influences the training of physicians, nurses and dietitians. Dr. Greger points out that the American Dietetic Association receives millions of dollars annually from the beef, dairy and egg industries.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.