There's a new study out telling us once again not to eat red meat. The study followed about 38,000 middle-aged men for an average of 22 years and 84,000 women for 28 years and concluded that red meat contributes to cancer.
The fear of red meat started right after WWII, when scientists observed that the incidence of heart disease was low in occupied Europe after WWII at a time when Europeans were eating less cholesterol (meat, dairy, eggs). Never mind that sugar, flour, alcohol, cigarettes, and gas were scarce after the war and so people were eating less sugar and refined white flour, drinking and smoking less and walking more. Then there was the obvious fact that butter and other animal fats are yellow and viscous, just like the fatty deposits found in the arteries of autopsied heart attack victims. It stood to reason: Cut out the cholesterol from animal fat in your diet, and you would not have plaque in your arteries.
Enter biochemist Ancel Keys in 1953 who instigated the lipid hypothesis (the belief that elevated blood cholesterol levels were a risk factor for heart disease, and that blood cholesterol levels were elevated by eating cholesterol-laden foods and saturated fat) in his famous "Seven Countries Study," in which he maintained that countries with the highest fat intake had the highest rates of heart disease. Keys was accused of cherry picking data from the countries that supported his hypothesis and ignoring those that didn't (data was available from 22 countries). There were alternative views about saturated fat and cholesterol dating back to 1936 when pathologist Kurt Landé and biochemist Warren Sperry of the Department of Forensic Medicine at New York University conducted an extensive study that found no correlation between the degree of atherosclerosis and blood cholesterol levels. These findings were repeated by Indian researchers in 1961, Polish researchers in 1962, Guatemalan researchers in 1967, and Americans in 1982.
There continue to be firm believers that saturated fat and cholesterol are deadly, as well as those who continue to stand by saturated fat and cholesterol as life-giving. But since the study was about cancer, not heart disease, let's set the saturated fat/cholesterol issue aside.
Red meat can produce cancer-causing particles called heterocyclic amines, which is why you shouldn't grill meat to death on the barbecue. On the other hand, I could list many natural toxins in food, like aflatoxins, phytates, and goitrogens, among many others. Because raw foods contain natural toxins and cooking can produce others, we need to eat a variety of foods in a balanced diet.
The study that supposedly showed that red meat contributes to cancer was not a controlled study; rather, researchers followed 100,000 plus people for 28 years. Without controls, it means that these people likely ate many factory-produced foods, like commercial milk, which is notoriously contaminated with real poisons like rBGH, and Coke and Pepsi, which have recently been called to the carpet by the FDA for containing 4-methylilidazole (4-MI), a chemical that has been linked to cancer in mice and rats. And just what kind of beef were the subjects consuming? Could it be of the pink slime variety? Not to mention hot dogs, luncheon meats, Spam, and commercial bacon, which contain sodium nitrates and other carcinogenic compounds (the study admitted to this).
Today's food chain is adulterated with carcinogens. There is mercury in tuna (a huge fish close to the top of the marine food chain so it has eaten a lot of other fish containing mercury). Fluoride, a known carcinogen, is put into our water supply, which means that commercial beer, reconstituted O.J., sodas, and other beverages that are made with water are delivery systems for fluoride. How many carcinogenic baked goods, French fries, potato chips, and other transfat- and hydrogenated- laden foods were accounted for in this study?
In general, I'm not all that impressed when I hear about studies, because it's only with absolutes that you can even begin to approach an absolute conclusion. The variables of human experience, genetics and behavior automatically render results of human trials inconclusive, even if your test subjects were selected from a pool of virtually identical individuals, either male or female, sharing the same race, height, weight, dietary and exercise history, sleep patterns, cigarette and alcohol use, baseline cholesterol numbers, prescription and OTC use, sex lives, TV habits, golf scores, and number of children (alive and dead). You would still have to have a team of unbiased scientists from another planet examine the results because, again, human beings are flawed, and when they want to prove something they will go to nearly any length. When a researcher sets out to prove a hypothesis, he or she is looking for that proof of that hypothesis in the results of whatever study he or she conducts. Research protocols are not perfect, and data can be juggled or ignored, corners cut and so on, so that a researcher is likely to get the results he or she is looking for -- especially if they stand to make money from any ventures that rely on a hypothesis being correct. And scientists and doctors who have spent their entire careers hyping a hypothesis and perhaps have lucrative clinics, books and other products based on this premise are not likely to back down from their original position.
And the study on red meat that's all over the news was not even a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. The researchers merely followed meat-eating people. Again, they didn't check to see what other carcinogens they were eating or being exposed to in home-care and self-care products.
Right now we are in the midst of a new study. Two very adamant camps have split from the factory food diet that the vast majority of Americans have been eating for the last 75 years. One group is the lowfat, organic raw food, soy, vegan or vegetarian eaters of veggies (including green veggie juice), as well as fruits. They eat a lot of complex carbs like grains and starchy vegetables. Those who allow animal foods eat eggs, organic and/or raw milk, cheese and other dairy foods. They also consume therapeutic fats like flax, borage, black current, and evening primrose.
The other group -- the group to which I belong -- avoids soy like the plague and eats a diet that is high in fats like coconut oil, and olive oil, as well as therapeutic fats like cod liver oil, borage, black current, and evening primrose. We consume lots of saturated fat and cholesterol in butter, eggs and raw and/or organic milk and other dairy foods as well as meat from pasture grazing animals. Green veggie juice and lots of veggies are part of our diet, but we don't eat many grains.
Both groups have given up smoking, taken up exercise and meditation and have enthusiastically embraced organic home- and self-care products (which means that the big cosmetic companies may be pressured to get their acts together, and I may someday be able to switch back to chemical-free Chanel lipstick!). But I stray.
Some 20 or 30 years from now we'll have the results of this ongoing study. Those are the results I'm interested in seeing. In the meantime, I think I'll have steak for dinner tonight.
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