Pork, the Other Deadly Meat

A sliced open hunk of roast beef

Red meat in moderation is okay, but you probably shouldn’t chow down on steak every day. That’s what conventional dietary wisdom says. Now, a National Cancer Institute study suggests, the distinction between moderation and daily intake has become a matter of life and death.

In the study, published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 545,653 people ages 50 to 71 were asked about their eating habits and then tracked over the next 10 years. During that time, a little over 70,000 died.

The study found that female participants were 36 percent more likely to end up in that group if they ate red meat regularly, and male meat lovers were 31 percent more likely to die. Those who ate more “white meat” like poultry and fish upped their chances at longevity. The results for those who ate lots of pork, or ate it in addition to beef and lamb and so on, were similar to the over all meat eater results, hinting that pork is not such a white meat after all.

Two things interested me about this article—aside from the fact that I get to say a great big “I told you so” to anyone who’s doubted my meat-free lifestyle, and that the pork marketing claims have been debunked. One is that the way meat is prepared can affect its level of healthfulness (or deadliness). Processed meats, like all processed foods, are much worse than their fresh and uncomplicated counterparts. Other news sources were quick to point out that fried or grilled meats are also bad, because direct, high heat produces harmful compounds.

So roasted and boiled meat, prepared simply—which describes a lot of traditional Jewish meat preparations—is a good way to go. But then again, you can get along just fine without brisket. [Updated: Stick with the chicken soup, though, if you eat meat. I've been seeing more evidence lately to suggest that homemade chicken stock is a great source of calcium and protein.]

Another interesting aspect is the addition, at least in the Washington Post coverage, of considerations for the environment. When previous studies linking meat consumption to colon and breast cancer came out a few years ago, methane and factory farm energy consumption weren’t so much on people’s minds.  A study of the meat industry’s impact on the health of the climate will not be as easy to conduct, so it may be a while. I’ll just have to hold onto my “I told you so” on that one.

Photo from the U.S. government via Wikipedia.

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6 Responses to “Pork, the Other Deadly Meat”

  1. Gersh Says:

    Because smugness is definitely the way to win hearts and minds to your way of thinking.

    Seriously, is rhetoric dead?

  2. Rhea Says:

    Gersh,

    Reading this over the next day, I see it came out much more strident than I had intended. I personally believe meat in moderation is just fine, and am following the grass-fed movement with interest. Thanks for reading, even if you came away disappointed.

  3. Adam Jackson Says:

    Rhea,

    I enjoyed reading your piece — and I thought what might have seemed “smug” to Gersh was actually more tongue in cheek than it might have sounded. I gladly eat meat, and I wasn’t offended.

    I’d separate two things, though:

    1) Study of how eating meat affects the health of the consumer

    2) Study of how raising animals for meat-eating consumers affects the environment. This latter seems to be what you’re referring to in your comment at the end about “the meat industry’s impact”.

    Both are interesting, but they’re somewhat different questions…

    I’d close by saying that perhaps we don’t need to have an all-or-nothing approach.

    Michael Pollan’s dictum – “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – seems to confirm these findings quite well: meat eaters can still feel confident eating some meat, though less than is perhaps the norm in many American diets!

  4. Miri Levitas Says:

    I found the article very interesting. I don’t eat any meat besides chicken broth (I just don’t like it, in addition to all of the health and environmental concerns). We just got two frozen grass-fed stewing hens from a local farm and made homemade chicken stock with it. It tastes great and I’m glad to hear that it has added health benefits!

  5. Rhea Yablon Kennedy Says:

    Adam,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m so glad you invoked Mr. Pollan! The moderation part is so key. And there’s such thing as too much tofu, too!

    Yeah, the part about the environmental impact definitely strayed from the point of the rest of the post. But I couldn’t resist mentioning that the Post article ended with that little twist. In 2005 and 2006, when those other studies came out, the press coverage I saw didn’t bring up that aspect.

    I was looking at this part in the recent article:

    “There’s a big interplay between the global increase in animal food intake and the effects on climate change,” [Barry M. Popkin, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study] said. “If we cut by a few ounces a day our red-meat intake, we would have big impact on emissions and environmental degradation.”

    Miri,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the grass-fed hens and now have even more reason to enjoy chicken stock :) If you really want to feel good, check out this essay by Sally Fallon: http://www.westonaprice.org/fo.....broth.html. If you’re wondering why a vegetarian knows about this stuff, let’s just say my food dorkdom knows no boundaries.

    Ok, that’s more than enough from me. Thanks for reading!

  6. Cara Says:

    Interesting post, and while I agree red meat in excess is generally bad for your health, the lack of any red meat is equally bad for some. I know from personal experience as I cut out all meat for a few years and then just red meat. I ate eggs and made sure I got enough protein and took vitamins, etc. but over time I began to have thyroid problems and my ovaries decided to stop working. Several months and many tests later, nobody knew what the problem was and I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I became more interested in sustainable farming practices and ethically produced meat and decided to try red meat again. I eat it probably once or twice a week and immediately I noticed a difference in my health. After one month, I no longer had PCOS which leads me to believe the problem was due to a lack of zinc and B vitamins that are mostly found in red meat. It is true these nutrients can be found in other foods but it has also been shown that they are not as readily absorbed by the body when eaten from vegetables and that something in the meat matrix affects its bioavailability.

    A lot of vegetarians are perfectly healthy with their diet, but it definitely does not work for some people. There is nothing wrong with eating meat, especially when the animals are treated well, our bodies have adapted to being omnivores. So, I guess I just wanted to share my story, and I hope that any negative attitudes regarding meat-eating can be dissuaded. If not for my (incorrect) feeling that I was somehow doing something bad by eating meat, I may have never encountered all the health issues that I did.

    Just to point out – I did not come away with a strong feeling of negativity towards meat from your post – however I do offer a sort of “told you so” of my own in response.

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