By Alan Caruba
It is now a proven fact that eating food—any kind of food—will kill you. No one who has eaten food in the past is alive today and everyone currently eating food will die. Therefore, those noble people who seek to save us from eating every kind of food that the earth provides should be hailed and saluted for their efforts to keep us alive.
I say this as the son of a woman who taught the art of haute cuisine for over three decades and authored several cookbooks. That poor woman died at age 98 and I am convinced it was all that fabulous food that killed her. Ridiculous? YES!
These thoughts were occasioned by word that two groups, the World Cancer Research Fund International, based in the United Kingdom, and the American Institute for Cancer Research, will likely announce that eating meat will give you some form of cancer at a press conference scheduled the same day as Halloween. Boo!
In mid-October The New York Times ran an article, “U.S. Cancer Death Rates Are Found to Be Falling.” It cited a decline “by an average of 2.1 percent a year…a near doubling of decreases that began in 1993, researchers (from the American Cancer Institute) are reporting.” Now this is, of course, good news. The bad news is that smoking appears to be a significant cause of cancer. In the U.S. cancer remains the second leading cause of death after heart disease, with 559,650 deaths expected every year.
Bear in mind that at least 10,000 Americans on the average die every day from something, not infrequently just old age and the infirmities associated with it. If you live beyond age 85 or into your 90s, the odds of dying from something are pretty good.
So why is it that meat is so often singled out as lethal? Well, for one thing, there are any number of vegetarian groups that, like some weird religious cult, flood the Internet and other media with fulminations against eating meat of any kind.
A Google search for “Meat + Health” will turn up links to literally thousands of studies that proclaim that eating meat will cause breast, prostrate, colon, and other forms of cancers. That said, if you search all the studies, you will also find those that confirm that meat is as healthy a part of diet as anything else. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) 2005 Food Guide and its Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Eating Plan recommend two to three servings a week of lean meat.
What so many of the anti-meat studies do not tell you is that the subjects of their studies were, as often as not, also exposed to other risk factors that might have contributed to whatever form of cancer is being cited. The correlation between eating meat and the cancer risk cited is a statistical conclusion, but not necessarily the actual cause.
As often as not, if you read the abstract of these studies you will find mitigating phrases such as meat as a “suspected” cause and that those who have a diet high in meat “may” be “particularly” exposed. Now, I admire people who devote their lives to unraveling the mysteries of medical science, but I also know that when you do this for a living, you also have to keep finding correlations or find another job.
I also know there are organizations whose funding and support is dependent on periodically announcing that just about anything you eat, from popcorn to fish, will kill you.
My friend, Frank Murray, the author of dozens of books on nutrition and longtime contributing editor of Let’s Live magazine, once co-wrote an entire book, “You Must Eat Meat” with Max Ernest Jutte, MD. The other day I asked him what he thought of all the anti-meat efforts, and he replied that, “It stands to reason that if you eat a lot of highly-cooked meat, bacon, and meats full of nitrosamines, you need to take counter measures, for example, lots of vitamin C and vitamin E.” You can either get these vitamins from the foods you eat or, like myself, take them as dietary supplements.
According to Wikipedia, “Nitrosamines are found in many foodstuffs especially beer, fish, fish byproducts, and in meat and cheese products preserved with nitrite pickling salt. The US government established limits on the amount of nitrites used in meat products to decrease cancer risk in the population. There are also rules about adding ascorbic acid or related compounds to meat, because they inhibit nitrosamine formation.” (Emphasis added)
Let’s have a show of hands to see how many of you are going to stop drinking beer or eating either meat, fish, or cheese?
The oldest rule of pharmacology regarding the level of threat from anything you injest is that the amount—the dose—is what determines the hazard. Potatos, for example, contain trace elements of arsenic, but not enough to kill you even you ate a truckload at one time.
What people are rarely told these days is that meat is a great source of high quality proteins that a vegetarian diet is not able to provide. It also contains all the essential amino acids the body requires. This is true as well for phosphorous which is more easily absorbed than that present in cereals and legumes. Meat is rich in vitamin B12. Nutritionists will also tell you that, in general, preserved meats such as ham, bacon, salami, et cetera, should be avoided because they are contain large amounts of fats, salts, nitrites and nitrates that have been associated with increased rates of cancer.
It is common sense that must be applied to the latest assault on meat and it is common sense that suggests that vegetables are good for you, too.
So, keep on eating, but not too much, okay?
Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, “Warning Signs”, posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center, http://www.anxietycenter.com/. He also maintains a blog at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com/.
© Alan Caruba, October 2007