Bad News For Carnivores – Is Meat As Deadly As Smoking?
March 6, 2014

Bad News For Carnivores – Is Meat As Deadly As Smoking?

What’s for breakfast – a bacon and egg fry-up or free-range bird food? It’s your decision, but just before you choose your next chomp, you might want to consider this. New research has suggested that a diet heavy in animal fats could be as dangerous for human health and life expectancy as smoking. That is unless you are old when the same food can help you live longer. Confused? Read on.

The link between animal fat and several diseases has been well documented and it is not exactly a secret is it? I remember one of Elvis’s buddies saying that it wasn’t drugs that killed Elvis it was breakfast. The King loved his bacon but he liked it cooked in pork fat. But these findings, if correct, indicate a much more serious level of morbidity and mortality than we suspected before.

Remember the Atkins Diet? Once, all the rage, this low-carb high protein was very popular at one time and still has its devotees. It is perhaps the best known among many of its kind. Undoubtedly successful in producing weight loss for many users, the Atkins Diet is mired in controversy and a lot has been written about the potential long-term harm to general health.

These types of health hazards are the subject of an investigation for the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) and have been published in an article in the journal Cell Metabolism. What the scientists discovered was that people below the age of 65 who have a diet rich in animal protein like meat, eggs, milk, and cheese, are four times more likely to die of cancer or diabetes and almost twice as likely to die of any cause over an 18 year period. They also found that the risk of cancer was three times higher for the middle-aged who eat a protein rich diet from any source – including plant sources like beans, legumes, nuts and pulses. Strangely however, the research also found that high protein diets seemed to be beneficial for health in the elderly. Over-65’s consuming high levels of protein saw a reduction of 28 per cent in mortality rates from all causes and a 60 percent fall in the risk of dying from cancer. The suggestion is that people benefit from low protein consumption until middle age but, as their weight falls and they become increasingly frail in old age, protein intake should be increased to promote stronger healthier bodies.

As with all research of this kind the findings are not conclusive or widely replicated at this stage but the authors of the report make a valid point when they state that following their recommendations won’t do any harm if they turn out to be wrong but may be very beneficial if they are proved right as the effects of high animal protein consumption up to your 60s could, they say, be as harmful as smoking. So what do they recommend? Put simply, keep your protein intake to no more than 10 percent of your calories and, as much as possible, use plant-based protein. As for the smoking comparison, it seems less than helpful to me especially if it means a smoker saying, “I might as well carry on smoking as the meat is going to get me anyway.” Smoking is unquestionably unhealthy and potentially deadly with no health benefits but animal-based foods can be a useful component of a balanced diet be excellent for nutrition it eaten in moderation.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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