WHO tells you what to do.
I’d like to discuss the recent WHO (World Health Organisation) report recommending a limited intake of meat, in particular processed meat, on the basis that it causes cancer.
Politics, and statistics aside for a moment, I’m going to discuss some of the things that are known scientifically, about meat consumption, relating to degenerative disease, cancer included.
I think it is important to understand that these recent statements have limited usefulness (other than promoting fear and confusion), without perspective and an appropriate context.
For starters there are many different types of meat on the market (with varying amino acid makeup, fat quantity and fatty acid profiles), having, particularly in the case of the so called processed meats, a wide variety of potentially toxic ingredients added to them, depending on manufacturer and a few other factors.
There are also different types of animals used for meat consumption (living in different conditions, with varying diets), having dissimilar physiology, methods of digestion and assimilation, all of which impact significantly on the quality of meat produced.
From this perspective alone the recent WHO statements and statistics can be seen to be of almost no value.
Fortunately I believe this can all be broken down and discussed (with any luck, shedding some light onto the subject) without going into too much unnecessary detail.
Hopefully, the information provided will help with the making of safe, healthy (as well as reasonably cheap) meat choices, whilst at the same time adding some perspective with regards to the consumption of meat in combination with other macro-nutrients, and how awareness of this can potentially protect against disease and degeneration.
Firstly I’d like to briefly discuss the fat content of meat. There is a large amount of evidence showing the cancer promoting effects of the polyunsaturated fats. The polyunsaturated fat content of meat is determined in part by animal type, as well as by their diet.
Ruminant animals (beef, lamb, goat etc.) have little in the way of polyunsaturated fat stored in their tissue. A high polyunsaturated fat diet produces only a small increase in the unsaturated fat content of ruminant animals, as it is mostly converted to saturated fat in the rumen.
On the other hand, the fat content of non ruminant animals like pigs or horses or chickens etc, reflects the fat content of the foods that they eat. Feeding them corn and soy beans rather than their natural diet will therefore increase significantly the amount of polyunsaturated fat stored in their body, making consuming them more damaging over time.
Most processed meats will be made with pork, and will have cheap and profitable seed oils added into them, making their fat content more polyunsaturated, and increasing their disease promoting potential.
From this point of view, the safest meats will come from ruminant animals, and from processed meats without the polyunsaturated fats (and other toxic ingredients) added into them.
Although saturated fats (contrary to popular opinion), have been experimentally demonstrated to be anti inflammatory and protective, I will be discussing the problematic nature of high fat diets (regardless of fat type) a little further down in this article.
The next issue I would like to discuss relates to the different amino acid profiles of varying cuts of meat.
In simple terms, it is reasonably well known that the amino acid profile of the more expensive and popular muscle meats can, over time, have an inflammatory effect when consumed regularly, without at least an even balance of the anti inflammatory amino acids (in particular glycine) found in the more gelatinous cuts of meat.
Many people today (particularly in the western world), avoid the cheaper gelatinous cuts, (oxtail, osso bucco etc) choosing the softer, more highly prized muscle meats, thus increasing the potential for inflammation to rise systemically, a factor which is relevant to the development of cancer, as well as many other diseases of degeneration.
Supplementing with gelatin or collagen in order to balance amino acid intake is one way to protect against the potentially inflammatory effects of the consumption of large amounts of muscle meat. A tablespoon of gelatin with a serve of meat goes a long way towards improving balance. Alternatively, the gelatinous meats, when cooked the right way are delicious, and much cheaper.
The next issue I’d like to mention relates to the scientifically exhibited cancer promoting effect of consumption of a high ratio of phosphorus relative to calcium.
High phosphorus intake, unopposed by sufficient consumption of calcium, can cause an increase in parathyroid hormone, a factor which has been shown to be associated with almost all varieties of cancer, as well as many other disease states.
Most meats (as well as seeds, grains, beans, legumes etc) are very high in phosphorus and have insufficient levels of calcium to balance it out.
Dairy products, on the other hand (as well as many leafy green vegetables), have high levels of calcium relative to phosphorus.
A safe ratio is approximately 1:1, whereas many people today are consuming ratios more in the range of 10:1 phosphorus to calcium, thereby over time, going a long way towards promoting the kind of ‘stress metabolism’ which makes the development of cancer more likely.
From this point of view, it makes sense to either limit your intake of meat to some degree, increasing consumption of dairy products (milk, cheese etc) and well cooked leafy greens (a vegetable broth can be a good way to get calcium) or alternatively, use other calcium supplements (eg. eggshell calcium) to improve your calcium to phosphorous ratio.
Much of this kind of information is discussed in greater detail in the work of Ray Peat Phd, and is the subject of a large body of science found in many long existing high quality physiological texts and experiments.
The issue of high fat diets (saturated fat included, even though it is a safe anti inflammatory fat) is worthy of a full and detailed discussion, however I’m going to try and put it in as simple terms as possible.
The consumption of large quantities of fat in general can interfere with metabolic processes that enable the body to use sugar (or glucose), its preferred source of fuel, effectively and efficiently.
From an evolutionary perspective this can make sense, especially in the context of a situation involving hardship, famine, or starvation etc., where the body, in an attempt to protect itself, temporarily reduces metabolic requirements using secondary sources of fuel as a means for survival until conditions improve.
Historically the fat consumed and subsequently stored in the body was mostly saturated in nature, enabling survival during times of stress (when stored fat is being used as fuel), whilst limiting some of the long term damaging effects.
Although such conditions would not likely have been sought after (being avoided whenever possible), they would have been more easily managed in a way which prevented chronic inflammatory states from continuing unnecessarily, beyond the time that the stressful period was over.
A diet high in meat consumption, whilst limiting intake of carbohydrate or sugar, will likely include more fat, and this can in some ways, replicate the results of stress (or a famine-like scenario for example), significantly increasing over time the promotion of degenerative diseases, including cancer.
Under these condition the stress related hormones, like for instance cortisol and adrenalin, are increased playing a role in the furtherance of disease whilst also encouraging the release of a cascade of other related stress inducing (and potentially cancer promoting) substances in the body.
One feasible and safe way to limit this possibility, whilst also significantly improving blood sugar regulation (a factor which is also highly relevant to this discussion), is to reduce fat intake (especially the polyunsaturated variety) gradually increasing the ratio of carbohydrate to protein included in the majority of meals.
A ratio of 2 or 3:1 carbohydrate to protein, is a reasonable starting point using simple sugars from milk, sweet ripe fruits and juices, honey and white sugar (even some well cooked starches like white potato or white rice if tolerated) as a means for providing protein, as well as sufficient fuel for the cells to enable metabolism to function effectively, helping to protect against stress and disease.
This all overlaps into any conversation regarding thyroid and cholesterol (as well as the production of the protective hormones pregnenolone, testosterone, and dhea), which play a large part in protection from aging and degeneration. I won’t go into this in any great detail now, other than to say that the matters discussed above all relate to the maintenance of a healthy thyroid system and are, from the point of view of the physiological function of the cell, protective against disease generally, as well as cancer more specifically.
Although this is not a comprehensive discussion of all of the issues that can come into play in relation to meat consumption and it’s impact on the development of cancer, I have tried to cover the most significant (as well as generally easy to manipulate and experiment with) elements.
Once these factors have been taken into consideration to some degree, there is no reason why meat cannot be consumed for its many beneficial effects and properties, including good quality biologically available protein minerals and vitamins, as well as simply because it can be practical, cheap and delicious.
As a final note I would add that bacon is good for the soul, and can be safely consumed in the the right context.