Monday, August 12, 2013

5 Good Reasons to Eat Less (Or No) Red Meat

A nice rare steak or a hamburger with the works is so American one might easily assume it is a right enshrined in the Constitution. "Meat and Potatoes" defines a certain sort of person. And seriously, can you picture the Marlboro Man  chowing down on a juicy tofu burger? Of course not. But then the Marlboro Man is dead. And according to a 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study the people who eat the most red meat have a 30% greater chance of joining him in any given year than the people who eat the least. "Eating red meat increases the chance of dying early," says study co-author Adam Bernstein. "We estimated that ... 10% of deaths in men could be prevented if they consumed less than half a serving of red meat per day. That's remarkable."

And if that is not remarkable enough for you, evidence that red meat threatens public health in other significant ways is both surprising and disturbing.

So here are my 5 Top Reasons to eat less red meat - or swear off it altogether.

1. Antibiotic Resistance
    Margaret Chan is the Director-General of the UN World Health
    Organization. Last year she issued a dire warning that got almost
    no media coverage. The world is facing, she said, "and end to
    modern medicine as we know it. Strep throats could once again
    kill people, and hip replacements, organ transplants and cancer
    chemotherapy would become far more difficult, or even too
    dangerous to undertake." The cause of this alarming suggestion?
    We are losing our first line of antibiotic drugs to ever increasing
    strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria. As for new drugs to fight
    the threat, Chan was not optimistic. "The pipeline is virtually dry.
    The cupboard is bare."

    Part of the problem is simply overuse by doctors and patients
    (even for things that the drugs have no impact on, like viruses,
    and as a preventive step of dubious value). But 3/4 of the
    antibiotics used in the US today are given not to people but to
    livestock. And antibiotic resistant bacteria are now showing up
    with regularity in the meat at your local supermarket. E-coli
    has been detected in around 3/2 of the beef and 40% of the pork
    tested at markets. And about half of the samples were resistant
    to antibiotics - about triple the percentage found in 2002.

    Antibiotics are not only used to treat sick animals but also given
    in low doses to encourage faster, larger growth. In the 1990s,
    Denmark banned the use of antibiotics in animals other than to
    treat the sick ones. The impact on their livestock industry was
    approximately nothing. Why can't we do that in the US? Good
    question. Meanwhile, if you intend to continue eating red meat,
    be sure it is thoroughly cooked before you do - this kills most
    bacteria. And maybe spring for organically raised, antibiotic free
    meat. Its not just about you, this effects us all.

2. Live a Healthier Life
    The list of serious health issues to which red meat is a significant
    contributor is long. Vascular and heart disease, stroke, cancer and
    diabetes top the list. Meat eaters as a group also tend to be more
    overweight than non or occasional consumers. If you would rather
    die than give up red meat, there is some good news. "You don't
    have to stop eating meat entirely," says Walter Willett, chair of the
    nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health.
    "Eating meat only once a week eliminates most of the risk." Try to
    remember though what a "serving" is. Its about 4 ounces. Not a 24
    ounce porterhouse.

3. Live a Longer Life
    In addition to the Harvard study cited earlier, a 2012 National
    Institutes of Health study reaches similar conclusions. The study
    estimated that replacing just 1 serving per day of red meat with
    other foods (including fish and poultry) reduces mortality 7% -
    19%. As a bonus, your longer life will also be a healthier one.

4. Live on a Healthier Planet
    The beef industry is a major contributor to climate change and
    global warming. Deforestation, water use (it takes about 1,300
    gallons of water to produce one pound of beef), methane
    production (23 times the heat trapping capacity of carbon
    dioxide), pollution from nitrate fertilizers used to grow feed,
    solid waste and the transportation of feed, animals and meat
    products are all significant environmental issues.

5. Save Money
    Since I have cut back on eating red meat to one or two times per
    month (hey, what can I say?) my weekly grocery bill has
    declined by about 15%. I've also been forced to be more creative
    about finding tasty, satisfying dishes with which to replace the
    steak and hamburgers. The good news is there are lots of them.

The evidence continues to mount that eating a lot less red meat would make us all healthier people.

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