Yesterday saw an explosion of posts all over facebook from supposed experts on the latest research on cancer and red/processed meat. Many of these people are not qualified in anyway shape or form to dish out dietary advice and have only added to the scaremongering already going on. Unless you know your friend has a nutrition qualification, I’d be wary of listening to their advice!
The scaremongering obviously started first in the press and came about from the release of an article in The Lancet. The Lancet is a high quality medical journal and recognised as one of the best by many experts. That’s a good thing! Studies that come from high quality journals are important rather than something that was small and done on 20 people with no controls in place. However, the first thing I notice is the conflicts of interest section where it states “TN was involved in a research project funded by the World Cancer Research Fund…” that little statement says a lot. The researchers are not all completely independent which may have an impact on the outcome and study findings. Also, this is not really a study more a summary article of other studies.
The group found no clear association between red meat and colorectal cancer. What the report doesn’t comment on is the overall diet of the participants. Also, most of the studies will have used dietary frequency questionnaires or similar. They basically ask you how many times in a given period of time you consume a certain food. Most of us can’t remember what we eat 2 days ago never mind a week ago so these can be hugely inaccurate. These are observational studies that have been used not meta analysis of randomised control trials or intervention studies which are the gold standard of the study world.
The focus is also just on one aspect of diet- processed meat intake or red meat intake not the whole lifestyle of the person. A person who regularly eats McDonalds, drinks excessively and eats sugar all day long has a very different diet to someone who avoids processed food as much as possible and eats fresh food. Focussing on just 1 ingredient of diet doesn’t give the bigger picture of what else is going on. It also focuses on on association not causation. There is a difference between causing something and just being associated with it.
Basically, there is little evidence red meat causes cancer and maybe processed meat such as ham, chorizo, chicken roll, bacon, sausage etc may increase the risk slightly but we don’t know what effect an overall healthy, high protein, real food diet has on reducing the risk when these foods are consumed within that context.
My advice is to ignore the scaremongering. Eat a diet high in real food and that may include some red meat, bacon or sausage or even processed meat but buy high quality as often as you can so you know the animals are fed with quality feed and not given lots of drugs too. Eat plenty of organic vegetables where possible and lead a healthy lifestyle which includes not smoking, drinking less alcohol, moderate caffeine intake, managing stress levels and getting plenty of sleep and movement.
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