Processed red meat - WHO report

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This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report in which they stated a link between preserved red meats and cancer. The report got a lot of media coverage, including articles in most of the popular UK newspapers. I thought I'd mentioned it here as it links to a few articles I've written in the past about this subject and it might be worth talking about them again.

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Firstly, I do recommend anyone who's interested in this issue to watch the Forks over Knives documentary. It is engaging, thorough, accessible and clear and it shows the strong epidemiological and scientific links between a diet high in animal proteins (such as meat and dairy) and serious health problems. Many people nowadays think that they must consume milk for calcium and meat for protein. In fact, both these key nutritional elements can be found in vegetables. Also, as far as I know, an adult only needs about a golf-ball-sized amount of protein per day to keep him or her healthy, far less than the servings many people see as the minimum to eat. The Forks over Knives documentary (as far as I can remember) talks intelligently about these matters. I reviewed the film in this older blog entry and I heartily recommend it.

Secondly, the problems with preserved meats, discussed in the WHO report, aren't just about the meat itself, or the fat and salt added to it. As the WHO report states, certain organic molecules are created during the high temperature cooking process. In particular, aromatic amines are created. This doesn't sound too scary but I found out, several years ago, that the amines present in preserved meats, such as histamine, cadaverine and putrescence (you can guess why they're called that) can actually alter the mood of a person eating them if that person's digestive system is low on certain key enzymes known as Mono-amine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAO's. If a person is low on these MAO's, the amines in the preserved meats can make that person moody, aggressive, tearful and generally a mess if they eat such meats on a regular basis. To read the full description, check out this earlier blog entry.

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I've also found that animal proteins, meat, dairy and preserved meats are connected to a large range of health issues. For example, a meat-free diet can make your cells younger, a diet heavy in meat changes the bacteria populations in your gut, potentially leading to bowel cancer and a study warning of the health dangers of a diet high in milk.

There's another problem with foods cooked to a high temperature. They often end up containing significant levels of acrylamides (chemically related to the amines discussed above). Many years ago, a research team in Scandinavia investigated the strange problem of a herd of cows that were showing signs of mental injury. The researchers eventually tracked down the cause of the cows' distress. The cows were drinking from water contaminated by acrylamides leaking from a nearby factory. The researchers followed up on this discovery and discovered that acrylamides can be toxic to the body and brain. Unfortunately, the danger from acrylamides for us doesn't come from living next to a factory. Any food that is browned or turned golden by heating will contain acrylamides. At the high temperates created by roasting and toasting, organic molecules in the food are chemically transformed into acrylamides. Their negative effect on our bodies is multifaceted. As this cancer.gov report states, acrylamides are linked to higher incidents of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and possibly renal cell cancer. In other words, our chips and toast are toxic.

All in all, there's no sense in religiously avoiding everything that might produce acrylamides; a fish and chip supper once a month isn't a death sentence, but the negative effects will accumulate. It's probably a lot like sugar and diabetes. We have to keep the consumption down and make these unhealthy foods a small minority of our diet, or we will eventually suffer the consequences. Greens for breakfast, anyone?