We recently wrote about how just one rasher of bacon a day can increase bowel cancer risk. Now, new research has revealed that replacing red meat with plant protein can reduce heart disease risk. For the study, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, conducted a meta-analysis of trials comparing the effects of meat vs. other diets on our health. The results are published in the journal Circulation. It was an approach that allowed the researchers to not only examine the health effects of red meat, but also see whether substituting red meat for other protein sources brought benefits. Analyzing data from 36 randomized controlled trials, the researchers looked at the blood pressure and blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins of the participants. They then compared these levels with those of people who ate less red meat and more chicken, fish, legumes, soy, nuts, or carbohydrates. They found that while there wasn’t much difference in lipoproteins, blood pressure, or total cholesterol, diets high in red meat did cause an increase in triglyceride concentrations. In addition, diets rich in high-quality plant protein led to lower levels of bad cholesterol. Speaking about the findings of the research, Marta Guasch-Ferré, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent. “But, our new study, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors.”
Cutting down on meat is something many people say they are striving to do nowadays. Initiatives like Veganuary and Meat-free Mondays are helping to drive the trend and highlight the benefits of consuming less meat. But what’s the reality? Has meat consumption gone up or down over the past 50 years? Well, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization data, meat production today is nearly five times higher than it was in the 1960s. That is down to two main factors: first, there are more people to feed today. Second, people around the world have become richer, which is associated with a rise in meat consumption. In a nutshell, there are more people in the world and more of those people can afford to eat meat. This is highlighted when you consider the countries that eat the most meat. For example, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina all have annual meat consumption levels of more than 100kg per person. In fact, most countries in Western Europe have annual meat consumption levels of between 80kg and 90kg per person, while individuals in lower-income nations eat considerably less meat. For example, annual meat consumption levels in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigerians are 7kg, 8kg and 9kg per person respectively. The bottom line is that meat is still a luxury in many countries today. So, despite the initiatives and the seeming shift to people consuming less meat, the reality is that meat consumption isn’t falling. One point that is worthy of note, however, is that meat eating habits are changing. For example, in the West, people are eating more poultry and less red meat (namely beef and pork). Have your meat eating habits changed in recent times? If they have, was it a conscious decision on your part? [Related reading: Major study finds eating processed meat raises risk of breast cancer]
A major study has found that eating processed meat, like bacon and sausages, may raise the risk of breast cancer in women. According to the review of studies involving more than one million women, eating higher levels of processed meat could result in a 9% greater risk of developing breast cancer. The research by a team from Harvard University’s T H Chan School of Public Health reviewed 15 related studies. It supports previous findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which suggest processed meats cause cancer. However, while the study has identified a potential link between processed meat and breast cancer, there is no clear evidence to show these types of foods are actually the cause. Furthermore, as outlined by the study authors in the International Journal of Cancer, their findings only relate to processed meat, not red meat. Bacon, sausages, salami, ham, hot dogs and corned beef are all examples of processed meat. And while it is not fully known why these foods are associated with a greater risk of cancer, it is thought that preservatives, like salt, may react with protein in the meat turning it carcinogenic. But rather than eliminating processed meat from your diet completely, the advice is simply to cut down. At present, current NHS guidelines recommend eating no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day. If you’re eating more than that on a regular basis, maybe it’s time to make some dietary changes.
You should never ignore back pain because it could be a sign of pancreatic cancer. That’s the frank warning from charity Pancreatic Cancer UK. While pancreatic cancer often doesn’t show any symptoms in its early stages, some signs may begin to show as the disease progresses. One of the earliest signs of the disease is abdominal and/or back pain. The pain usually starts as a general feeling of discomfort in the stomach area. This then spreads to a person’s back and while it may come and go at first, it often becomes constant over time. “It can be worse when lying down, and sitting forward can sometimes make it feel better. It may be worse after eating. The tummy area may also feel tender,” said the charity. Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer include indigestion and unexplained weight loss. People with pancreatic cancer also develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and may experience difficulty swallowing, vomiting and a change in bowel habits. Anyone experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above should see their doctor without delay. While the exact cause of pancreatic cancer still isn’t known, the disease does appear to mainly affect people over 75 years old. Experts say that people can lower their risk of developing it by reducing their consumption of alcohol and red meat. [Related reading: Prostate cancer deaths outnumber those from breast cancer for first time in UK]
A new study has found the typical "social business diet", which consists heavily of red meats, sweet drinks, processed snacks and alcohol, has a detrimental effect on a person's heart. Unfortunately, it's a sign of the times that many individuals do not have, or at least don't think they have, enough time to sit down and eat a healthy meal. Instead, many people rely on grab-and-go food items that can be eaten on the road. However, according to a team of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, eating habits such as these up the risks of atherosclerosis - a slow, but steady clogging of one's arteries. In fact, eating out, snacking on the go, and excessive alcohol consumption is more unhealthy than the so-called Western diet. "This business diet is really very bad," said Dr. Valentin Fuster, a cardiology professor from Icahn. "It hits the arteries hard, and strongly contributes to cardiovascular disease risk, the world's number one killer," he added. The American Heart Association says that cardiovascular disease accounts for more than 17 million deaths across the world each year. Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in a person's arteries, and can raise their risk of blood clots, heart attacks, heart disease and stroke. If people want to lower their risk of cardiovascular problems in the future, they should minimise their consumption of red meat, sweets and alocohol, and increase their intake of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish and nuts.
People have talked about the possible negative effects of processed meat for a long time and numerous studies linking high consumption of red and processed meats with higher risk of colorectal cancer have even influenced public health recommendations in some countries. But now a report compiled on behalf of the World Health Organisation by a working group of 22 experts from 10 countries around the world has concluded that there is an association with eating processed meats and colorectal cancer risks. The findings, published recently in The Lancet Oncology, said that 50g of processed meat a day, which is equivalent to less than two slices of bacon, increased a person’s chances of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. Furthermore, the study said that red meats were “probably carcinogenic, but there was limited evidence to comment further. However, despite these findings, the WHO also emphasised that there are still health benefits associated with eating meat. Cancer Research UK’s advice is that people should cut down on their consumption of red and processed meats, rather than give them up completely. In fact, the organisation said that the occasional bacon sandwich would do little harm. Processed meat is meat that has had its shelf life extended or its taste changed by means of smoking, curing, or adding preservatives or salt. Bacon, sausages, hotdogs, corned beef, salami, ham, beef jerky and other canned meats are all considered “processed”. Chemicals used during the processing of the meats are thought to be carcinogenic catalysts, as is high-temperature cooking such as on a barbecue. Dr Kurt Straif from the WHO said: “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”
If you’re a lover of spicy food then we’ve got some good news for you. A new study suggests that your favourite spicy dishes may actually help lower your risk of death from certain conditions. Published in The BMJ, the observational study found that individuals who regularly consume spicy foods were at lower risk of death from cancer, ischemic heart disease and respiratory disease. The study focussed on 487,275 individuals in China aged between 30 and 79 who underwent regular health assessments. Between 2004 and 2008 the study participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their general health and eating habits in regard to spicy foods, red meat, vegetables and alcohol. One of the researchers’ observations was that the individuals who consumed spicy foods three to seven days a week were 14% less likely to have died than those who didn’t. Furthermore, frequent consumption cut the risk of death from cancer, ischemic heart disease and respiratory disease, particularly among the female participants. Nita G. Forouhi, from the Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge in the UK, says that further research is definitely justified. "Should people eat spicy food? It is too early to say, but the debate and the research interest are certainly hotting up," she said. So the next time you’re tucking into a dish that’s making your mouth burn and causing sweat to run down your face, remember that it could be helping to extend your life.