The Beef with Meat

The terms “meat” and “cancer risk” have been almost synonymous since 2015, when the World Health Organization officially classified processed meats as carcinogenic. This was pushed for largely because of a study linking breast cancer and sausage/bacon consumption. The rising popularity of sustainable living has furthered public interest in meatless diets, as well as recent social media trends. However, modern medicine (for the most part) continues to encourage meat consumption. Here's a simple explanation about the beef with meat and why researchers won’t stop arguing about it.

Courtesy: Victoria Shes

It’s normal to approach this argument with suspicion; from the time that we are children, the message that meat is essential to a healthy diet is drilled into us (with good reason!). Eating meat has numerous health benefits – including the enhancement and strengthening of the immune system, cardiovascular system, skeletal system, digestive system and circulatory system. Most of these benefits come from the protein and zinc found in meat.

So, why discuss meat consumption? It only seems logical to conclude that a meaty diet is a healthy diet.

To begin the discussion about the negative aspects of consuming meat, let’s start with the two types that are generally recognized as dangerous – processed and red.

What is processed meat?

Examples of processed meat include:

·      Hot dogs, beef jerky, salami

·      Chicken nuggets (I know, I know) 

·      Bacon

·      Sausage

·      Lunchmeat 

In short, processed meat is any meat that has been altered in some way in order to lengthen shelf life and improve taste. Any dried, canned, smoked, salted or cured meat is processed.

What is red meat?

Examples of red meat include:

·      Beef

·      Lamb/mutton

·      Pork

·      Veal

·      Venison

·      Goat

It’s important to note that health benefits specific to red meat do exist. The heme iron (specifically helpful for young girls and women), vitamin B12 (helps make DNA and keeps nerves and blood cells healthy) and zinc (good for the immune system) found in red meat are, as the information in the parenthesis suggests, incredibly helpful to an individual’s overall health. However, Harvard Medical School tells us that red meat is not necessary for pinnacle health. The linked study basically says that you can get all of the benefits of red meat from other types of meat or even a plant-based diet.

What exactly are the possible consequences of consuming red and processed meat?

Cancer

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, eating any amount of processed meat increases your risk of contracting colon cancer. The only explanation that AICR provides is that preservatives used in processed meat often lead to the development of cancer-causing agents in the body. As for red meat, consuming more than eighteen ounces a week increases your risk of contracting colon cancer. FYI, this Hydro Flask is eighteen ounces. 

For clarification, red meat (most likely) does not cause cancer, it simply increases your risk of contracting it. However, processed meat does cause cancer. If my word isn’t enough, ask the World Health Organization. Additionally, WebMD claims that loose links have been found between red and processed meat and the development of cancers of the lungs, esophagus, stomach, pancreas and endometrium. The saturated fat and heme iron in red meat lead to the aforementioned cancers, as well as general carcinogens that form when the meat is cooked.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a “… study of more than 200,000 women found that eating about 20 grams of processed meat each day—less than half the size of a regular hot dog—increased breast cancer risk by 21 percent.”

Strokes

Red meat leads to blockages in blood vessels that provide the brain with blood. In turn, this leads to increased stroke risk. Predictably, as an individual consumes more red meat, her risk of stroke increases.

If you’re a red meat fanatic, check out the American Heart Association’s recommendations for substitute foods.

Now, let’s address some of the negative consequences of eating any kind of meat.

Obesity

Evidence from the research conducted by Wenpeng You, a Ph.D. student at the University of Adelaide, linked meat-eating to obesity.

Cardiovascular Disease + Diabetes

An individual’s chance of dying from cardiovascular disease increases as his red meat consumption increases. This is because of a chemical called TMAO, which forms during digestion and leads to artery blockage. This applies to lean red meat as well. Additionally, a study done at the University of Oxford revealed that vegetarians had lower cholesterol levels and blood pressures than their meat-eating counterparts. This is directly linked to heart disease! The conclusion of this study includes all meat, not just red or processed. Vegetarians also had less reported cases of type 2 diabetes.

Are there any consequences for cutting out meat?

According to a recent article by BBC, a vegetarian diet can have serious impacts on intelligence. In a study done on 555 children in Kenya, the individuals who consumed meat performed significantly better on exams concerned with verbal reasoning and mathematic ability. Additionally, brain nutrients like creatine, carnosine and EPA can only be found in meat.

Vegans typically have a difficult time getting enough vitamin B12, and the amount of B12 consumed is directly correlated with an individual’s IQ. Researcher David Benton shares that the brains of vegan children often fail to develop properly because of this.

Vegans (and vegetarians) often struggle with low iron as well; this is bad because iron plays an essential role in transporting oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body.

The beef with meat is much more complex than a cute social media trend, and, ultimately, it’s up to each person to decide the best diet for her. Choose wisely!

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