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Animal protein as bad as smoking?! – A rebuttal from Zoe Harcombe

Published on March 6, 2014,

The media is suddenly full of stories suggesting animal protein and diets containing meat and cheese ‘could be as harmful as smoking’. It’s all because of a study reported in Cell Metabolism and, as so often, the reports and what was actually found are a long way apart…

PIIS155041311400062X.fx1.lrgZoe Harcombe has published an excellent analysis of the research and its short-comings. Most crazily, to me, she points out that the study found no overall association between protein intake and mortality, but only when they split out age groups did they see a pattern of increased mortality in the 50-65 age group. However, according to the law of averages, this must mean the opposite, namely a pattern of reduced mortality in the 65+ age group. So the study could have been reported in the media as “protein will save you in old age” (see graphic from the research which seems to confirm this).

Here’s an extract and link to Zoe’s article…

Animal protein as bad as smoking?!On March 4th 2014, articles started to appear on line. ” Animal protein-rich diets could be as harmful to health as smoking” said the Guardian. The Daily Mail captured the age dimension more accurately with ” Eating lots of meat and cheese in middle age is ‘as deadly as SMOKING ‘”. The source of the media headlines is this article in Cell Metabolism. The full article is available on free view. The Study The study reviewed data for 6,381 adults aged 50 and over (average age 65) using American public health data (NHANES III). The participants were followed for up to 18 years, giving 83,308 person years worth of data. Average calorie intake was reported as 1,823 per day (which already suggests under-reporting). This was 51% carbohydrate (by calorie intake); 33% fat intake and 16% protein intake. Most of this protein intake (11 of the 16%) was reported as protein from animal sources.

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You can read the original research here: Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population


Obese men in their 20s are TWICE as likely to die in middle age than their slim peers

Published on May 7, 2013,

The UK’s Daily Mail has an article based on research published in the BMJ (formerly known as British Medical Journal) by Danish researchers which highlights the devastating health consequences of obesity in young men. Sadly, nothing is especially surprising but it surely begs the question that if the consequences of obesity are so serious (and in turn costly), why won’t health authorities and governments face up to the fact that they have given us the wrong nutritional advice for decades and start showing people how reducing sugar and carb intake can make a real difference? This is from the Daily Mail…

Picture of an Obese Teenager (146kg/322lb) wit...

Picture of an Obese Teenager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Men who are obese in their early twenties are significantly less likely to live to reach middle age, according to a new study published in the BMJ.

They are also up to eight times more likely to suffer diabetes, potentially fatal blood clots or a heart attack.

It is well known that obesity in adulthood poses a risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but previously it had not been clear whether obesity in early adulthood strengthens that risk.

Danish researchers tracked the health of 6,500 Danish 22-year-old men for 33 years up to the age of 55.

All the men were born in 1955 and had registered with the Military Board for a fitness test to gauge their suitability for military service.

All potential conscripts in Denmark are subjected to a battery of psychological and physical tests, including weight.

Over 80 per cent were within the normal range and five per cent were underweight.

One in 10 were overweight and just over one per cent – equating to 97 men -  were obese.

Normal weight is classified as a body mass index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 25; obesity is classified as a BMI of 30 or more.

Almost half of those classified as obese at the age of 22 were diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, blood clots in the legs or lungs, or had died before reaching the age of 55.

They were eight times more likely to get diabetes as their normal weight peers and four times as likely to get a potentially fatal blood clot.

They were also more than twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, have had a heart attack, or to have died.

Every unit increase in BMI corresponded to an increased heart attack rate of five per cent, high blood pressure and blood clot rates of 10 per cent, and an increased diabetes rate of 20 per cent.

In total, obese young men were three times as likely to get any of these serious conditions as their normal weight peers by middle age, conferring an absolute risk of almost 50 per cent compared with only 20 per cent among their normal weight peers.

The findings, published in the BMJ, have prompted researchers to warn that the continuing rise in obesity may counteract the fall in deaths from heart disease.

They said: ‘Obesity-related morbidity and mortality will, in decades to come, place an unprecedented burden on healthcare systems worldwide.’

More at: Obese men in their 20s are TWICE as likely to die in middle age than their slim peers

Mark Sisson’s Words of Wisdom on the latest Processed Meat and Mortality Study

Published on March 18, 2013,

The media has been full of reports of a study apparently suggesting processed meat is bad for us (but fresh red meat is good for us). As the dust starts to settle, here are some words or wisdom from Mark Sisson on what the study really shows (and what it doesn’t) and what we can learn in terms of our consumption of processed meat and our cooking of fresh meat. This is from Mark’s Daily Apple…

English: Two small cans of Spam. One is closed...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was an observational study that only showed correlations. It did not establish causation.

Assuming the correlations indicated causation (which, you know, we have no way of knowing), fresh red meat has no effect on mortality. Processed meat does, but this effect is lessened when you account for the fact that processed meat eaters also lead generally unhealthy lifestyles bereft of exercise and produce and replete with smoking, overeating, and, for men, drinking. Even so, those adjustments were purely mathematical. Even the authors of the study “could not exclude residual confounding,” the general unhealthy lifestyle effect. You can’t quantify general unhealthiness, recklessness, psychological stress, and all the other factors that affect our health and mortality. They didn’t track things like checkups at the doctor, either.

All that said, this research isn’t saying anything we’re not already aware of.

Real red meat, fresh cuts of cow, pig, and lamb, are nutritious foods. There’s no evidence that they’re killing us en masse.

Don’t make processed meat your major source of animal products. Eat steak, not those weird processed meat sticks they sell at gas stations. I’ve said this before.

And yes, bacon is delicious, but it shouldn’t replace real, actual meat in your diet. A pound of bacon for breakfast is a fun thing to have when your vegetarian friends stay over, though – I’ll admit that.

Eat your produce, folks. It’s good for you, and it may even reduce the formation of carcinogenic compounds when co-ingested with meat (steak and salad, anyone?). That could explain the relative reduction in mortality among people who ate lots of fruits and vegetables with their processed meat.

Don’t overcook your meat. The authors speculate that high-heat processing and the subsequent formation of heterocyclic amines (HCA) could explain the association between processed meat and mortality. Other studies have certainly found a connection between high-heat cooking, HCA, and prostate cancer, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a mechanism there.

More at:  Dear Mark: Is Meat Going to Kill Me (Again)?

Here’s another interesting perspective from Zoe Harcombe: Meat consumption and mortality

And another from Dr Briffa: Why I’m not worried about the odd bit of bacon and occasional sausage in my diet

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