In 2015, the World Health Organization classified processed meats as carcinogen and red meat as a “probable” cause of cancer. As this circulated the world news and social media for a couple of days, the impacts of how this has potentially influenced consumer spending and eating habits are yet to be fully quantified.
To add further weight to all this, in the Journal of American Osteopath Association, a recent paper looked at a number of studies to determine how meat was affecting our mortality with some of these studies covering over 1 million people and having follow-up periods of 5.5 to 28 years.
Red Meat Increases Mortality
Unsurprisingly, their analysis of the various studies indicated that:
- Even small amounts of meat may have an impact or risk on mortality but obviously small intake has lower risk than higher intake
- Processed meat significatly increases risk for any mortality
- Long term vegetarians have a 3.6 year increase in life expectancy
- White meats are not clearly associated with increased mortality as current data around them are conflicted
Clinical Question: Does meat consumption affect mortality?
Evidence: All-cause mortality is higher for increased daily consumption of red meat, especially processed meat. However, the compiled evidence does not link other meat products to all-cause mortality.
Recommendation: Physicians should encourage patients to limit animal products when possible, and substitute red meat and processed red meat with plant-based foods. Patients may supplement a plant-based diet with moderate amounts of fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy if desired.
Vegetarian Diets Decrease Mortality
In the next logical part of their report, they then looked at vegetarian and vegan diets and how this affected mortality:
- Vegetarians have a decreased risk of heart related issues and mortality
- Vegetarian diets have substantial health benefits (reduced body mass index, reversal of heart related diseases)
- Vegan diets have even further benefits where studies show that complete avoidance of meat is best for improved health
Being meat-eaters ourselves, the growing evidence that meat has a high probability of causing us health issues in future is a bit disturbing. Here’s how we digested all this information:
- Meat bad. Vegetables good: We get it. The large scientific facts and studies against red meat and in particular processed red meats are definitely food for thought (pun intended). But will all this science and further meat-bashing (ahem) going to completely turn us into total vegetarians or vegans? Most likely not.
- Make eating meat a conscious decision: So we will continue to eat meat but maybe cut down where possible. Where/when we do want to eat meat, we can force ourselves to make it a conscious decision to think it over a bit more. I.e do you really want to eat meat for this meal? When was the last time you had this type of meat? Are there compromises / better alternatives for this meal you can accept from the scale of processed meats-> red meats-> white meats/fish-> vegetables? If after this thought process we still want to go ahead then ultimately its our choice and risk to take.
And what should you guys out there do? Well, like with most of these things, read the facts (and counter-arguments if you want) and make an informed decision yourselves. Your lives, your rules.
Logic and probability are our self-hacking tools of the trade so if you are eating a load of hamburgers and other processed meats everyday what does that do for the probability of causing you and your loved ones pain in the future?
Source: The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association