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Health Benefits of Limiting Red Meat
Episode 4525th January 2024 • Fork U with Dr. Terry Simpson • Terry Simpson
00:00:00 00:17:51

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Did You Try the Carnivore Diet?

Did you try the carnivore in January? A month of red meat, eggs, and butter? If you did, you probably lost weight.  If you lost weight, you felt better. The Carnivore crowd will point to weight loss as proof of superiority.

But did you worry that this might not be the healthiest diet for you long-term?  Is it healthy? In short, the answer is no.

Perhaps you remember on a previous podcast, we talked about the beer and sausage diet. On that diet, Evo, the pod god who distributes this podcast, lost weight every month he was on the diet. In addition, his weekly lab work -sorry for all the jabs Evo - improved every week he was on the diet.

Could you argue that drinking beer and eating sausage is a good diet? You could, and that same logic is what the carnivore crowd uses to convince people the carnivore diet has merit.

Simplicity, is Thy Name Carnivore?

What could be simpler than eating a diet of just red meat? Who doesn't like a good steak? If you just eat steak or red meat, you will lose weight. When you lose weight, you will feel better. And your labs might improve. You might think it is paradoxical that your cholesterol level went down - it isn't; that is just a result of giving up junk food and weight loss.

Every diet has a honeymoon phase, where people think they can do the diet "forever."

Then reality comes home:

  • The diet becomes boring, and one note
  • There is an undeniable increased risk of heart disease and cancer
  • Maybe you got hemorrhoids or developed diverticulitis
  • Finally, in social situations, you become that person - the one who could only eat red meat  - the reverse vegan

FORK U

Today, on Fork U, we will discuss the latest low-carb fad: the Carnivore diet, the denial that goes into those who make up the diet, and the risks of an all-meat diet.

I'm Dr. Terry Simpson, and this is Fork U.

Fork University

Where we make sense of the madness, bust a few myths, and teach you a little about food as medicine.

Carnivore Diet

The carnivore diet, which primarily consists of animal products like meat, fish, and eggs, has become the latest low-carb fad. It is a controversial and extreme dietary approach. Proponents of the carnivore diet claim numerous health benefits. To be clear, the scientific evidence supporting these benefits is limited, and that long-term studies on the effects of the carnivore diet are lacking.

Paul Saladino, Ken Berry, and Shawn Baker are a few doctors who advocate for this diet. And oddly, none of them see private patients, although Saladino and Baker love showing their abs, and spend a lot of time in the gym.

The Biotruth of Evolution

Some claim the natural diet of humans is meat. This is a biotruth.

When someone tells you that “man was meant to eat” this or that – it is part of a logical fallacy known as a biotruth. A biotruth is an argument presented by someone with misunderstood notions of human biology and/or evolution but uses those false arguments to justify their views. In this case, how they eat.

You can extend that logical fallacy out: man was not meant to fly, so we shouldn’t be in airplanes. Primitive man did not have laboratories, so we should not have antibiotics.

You will see biotruth arguments from people who practice carnivore diets, as well as those who practice vegetarian (and vegan) diets. Often with photographs of our jaws and those of our ancestors – or they will say how we have a long or short intestine, and on that basis, we “were meant” to eat in whatever their view is.

As we evolved, were we better as plant eaters or meat eaters? Does it matter? It is an argument based in biotruth.

Paleolithic Man and Biotruth

The carnivore diet is based on the premise that man had evolved during the Paleolithic era by eating meat. Furthermore, they state that when agriculture and domestication of animals came (10,000 years ago), man’s metabolism was unable to adapt to these new foods. They assert that the maladies of modern man come from foods such as grains and dairy products. That non-meat diets lead to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes – all from our evolutionary dysfunction.

Archeology has about 6000 fossils to make these assumptions. From those 6000 fossils, we find that early man:

  • Probably was more of a scavenger than a hunter - taking whatever meat something else killed and left behind
  • Gathering, especially roots and beans, kept humans alive
  • The most common things hunted were frogs and rabbits
  • Neanderthals and Homo Erectus, our cousins but not direct ancestors, did organized hunting; the Neanderthals,  and homo sapiens began organization until perhaps 20,000 years ago.
  • Man ate grains even 30,000 years ago.

The view of man as a large game hunter is not from the evidence unless you count comic strips and movies.

Modern Hunter Gather Societies Eat Meat

Often, they refer to the Inuit, whose lifespan is about 50 (excluding infant mortality). They eat mostly sea creatures but have mummified evidence of atherosclerotic disease. The Hazda eat honey, fruit, and meat, and their average age of death is 50. Over half of their people don't make the age of 15.

The use of early man, or hunter societies, to state that we should be eating meat is factually incorrect.

Humans evolved not by eating meat. Humans evolved by eating anything they could, mostly plants. Early man did not evolve to live into the 90's.

Vegetables are poison: Lectins, Oxylates, and anti-nutrients

The other comments go something like the "defense of vegetables against humans." This ignores the long-lived populations, who eat mostly plants and little meat.

Kidney stones are found more commonly among meat eaters than vegetarians. (ref).

Despite their protestations, Kale, spinach, beans, and broccoli are healthy for people.

The Most Bioavailable Food

The other argument is that meat contains the richest nutrients, and the most bioavailable food.  Meat is a rich source of protein, the liver has a lot of vitamin D, and heme-iron is generally better adapted for iron deficiency. Meat is far from having all the nutrients a person requires. Red meat is rich in iron, zinc, B vitamins, and iron.

There is minimal fiber in meat. The carnivore crowd waives this off, stating that fiber isn't something humans need. In spite of the clear evidence that fiber decreases colon and rectal cancer, that fiber helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol. Fiber is important to a healthy gut microbiome, and fiber prevents hemorrhoids as well as diverticulitis. Their assertion is false and painfully so - especially if you've had hemorrhoids.

Vitamin C is not abundant in meat. This lesson led to the discovery of citrus as a means of avoiding scurvy in sailors during the era of Discovery. A finding attributed to another surgeon, Dr. James Lind.  Modern-day isn't without scurvy found among carnivore aficionados, such as musician James Blunt, who went on the carnivore diet.

Calcium is more abundant in dairy products and some vegetables, as is Folate. and omega-3 fatty acids. They tend to forget that farm-raised salmon has ten times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as does the cow raised on and fed with high-quality grass all their life.

Weight Loss and the Carnivore Diet

Weight loss occurs in a calorie deficit. There is no diet that cannot produce a calorie deficit. This has been demonstrated in great studies showing the equivalent of low-carb diets, and the Mediterranean diet are equal over time.

It has also been demonstrated in those showing the McDonald's diet, the cookie diet, the Twinkie diet, and our own - Beer and Sausage diet.

One simply gets tired of eating red meat, and you eat less of it. So instead of eating three thousand calories of multiple foods, you eat 2200 calories of meat, and you lose weight. Nothing to see here, folks, just another diet.

But there is a dark side to red meat. Just because you can lose weight and show all the physiological benefits of weight loss doesn't mean that a lot of red meat is good for a human. In fact, there is every evidence to state one should limit red meat.

Is Red Meat Consumption like Smoking?

There is always some headline grabber who states that eating red meat has the same risk as smoking. While red meat, as we shall see, has an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, it is not as risky as smoking cigarettes. As much as some anti-meat activists might like to frighten you, we assume you came here for the facts.

So, where did our studies begin?

Meat, the Seven Countries Study

Heart disease was an epidemic in the 1950s in the United States, primarily affecting white-collar men. However, when Ancel Keys heard that certain populations had almost no heart disease, he began a quest that resulted in the Seven Countries Study.

Briefly, people in some villages in the Mediterranean region ate less red meat. Some because they couldn't afford it, and it wasn't a traditional part of their cuisine.

Keys group studied 14,000 men from 16 villages in seven countries. Some of those cohorts, like in the United States and Finland, had high levels of red meat and saturated fat in their diet. Others, like those from Crevalcore and Montegiorgio, had far less saturated fat.

The Seven Country Study was the first to show that serum cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking are universal risk factors for heart disease. Ancel Keys and colleagues were central to the modern recognition, definition, and promotion of the eating pattern they found in Italy and Greece in the 1950s and ’60s, now popularly called “The Mediterranean Diet.”

They showed that dietary patterns in the Mediterranean and in Japan in the 1960s were associated with low rates of coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality. The studies on the elderly showed that a healthy diet and lifestyle (sufficient physical activity, non-smoking, and moderate alcohol consumption) is also associated with a low risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. A healthy diet and sufficient physical activity may also postpone cognitive decline and decrease the risk of depression.

While Carnivore like pointing out that Hong Kong has the highest consumption of meat and some of the longest-living people in the world, a closer look shows those who live to be well in their 80's and 90's ate a diet more like the Mediterranean and not much meat.

Red Meat and Diabetes

Red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Several studies have investigated this relationship, and here are some key findings:

  1. Particularly processed red meat, like sausages, bacon, and hot dogs, is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Perhaps from high levels of sodium and preservatives like nitrates may contribute to the development of diabetes.
  2. The high iron content in red meat can lead to elevated iron stores in the body and may interfere with insulin action and glucose metabolism.
  3. Saturated fats, abundant in red meat, increase the accumulation of fat in the muscles and liver, leading to insulin resistance.
  4. Large-scale epidemiological studies have provided evidence of the link between red meat consumption and diabetes risk.

Red Meat and Colorectal Cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen and red meat as a Group 2A carcinogen. A significant body of research has linked red meat, especially processed meat, to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. For example, a meta-analysis by Chan et al. (2011) found that each 100g/day increase in red meat intake was associated with a 17% increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Mechanisms Linking Red Meat to Colorectal Cancer

Potential mechanisms include the presence of heme iron in red meat, which facilitates the formation of known carcinogens, such as N-nitroso compounds.

Grilling or barbecuing can lead to the production of heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also carcinogenic compounds.

Red Meat and Pancreatic Cancer

A pooled analysis by Larsson and Wolk (2012) indicated that high red meat consumption was modestly associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

Red Meat and Prostate Cancer

The relationship between red meat consumption and prostate cancer is less clear. Alexander et al. (2010) meta-analysis found a weak but statistically significant association between high intake of red meat and increased risk of prostate cancer.

What is the Strength of Evidence?

While not all studies have found strong associations, also, the mechanisms are not fully understood.  However, the evidence suggests a link between high red meat consumption and an increased risk of certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.

 

Reduced Cancer Risk

Numerous studies have established a link between red meat consumption, especially processed meat, and an increased risk of certain types of cancer, including colorectal and pancreatic cancer (International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2015).

Decreasing red meat intake and incorporating various plant-based foods contribute to a lower cancer risk due to the high fiber content and presence of cancer-protective phytonutrients in plants.

Better Weight Management

Reducing red meat consumption can help weight management. Red meat is often high in calories and fat, contributing to weight gain. Opting for leaner protein sources and increasing the intake of vegetables and whole grains can help maintain a healthy weight (Wang, Y., & Beydoun, M. A., 2009, Epidemiologic Reviews).

Your Gut Health

Reducing red meat consumption can improve gut health. Diets high in red meat are low in fiber. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut microbiome. Incorporating more fiber-rich plant-based foods promotes better digestion and a healthier gut. Especially a reduced risk of diverticulitis and hemorrhoids. Drawbacks of a carnivore diet include nutrient deficiencies (such as fiber, vitamin C, and certain phytonutrients) and the potential impact on gut health due to the lack of dietary fiber.

 

Conclusion

The benefits of reducing red meat consumption include a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, better weight management, and improved gut health. Embracing a balanced diet rich in plant-based foods and varied protein sources can lead to a healthier lifestyle and well-being.

We call that lifestyle The Mediterranean Diet.

Thank you for listening to this edition of FORK U. You can find the references for this podcast on my blog, yourdoctorsorders.com or forku.com. While I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. If you need a doctor, please see a board-certified western-trained physician, not a naturopath or a chiropractor or some Eastern medicine witch doctor.

Fork U is distributed by our friends at Simpler Media and thanks to Allie Press and the pod god - Evo Terra.

Hey Ev0 -  did you know that those mummies in early Alaska had a lot of vascular disease? I wonder what my daddy had.

References

  1. Chan, D. S., Lau, R., Aune, D., Vieira, R., Greenwood, D. C., Kampman, E., & Norat, T. (2011). Red and processed meat and colorectal cancer incidence: meta-analysis of prospective studies. PloS one, 6(6), e20456.
  2. Larsson, S. C., & Wolk, A. (2012). Red and processed meat consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer: meta-analysis of prospective studies. British Journal of Cancer, 106(3), 603-607.
  3. Alexander, D. D., Mink, P. J., Cushing, C. A., & Sceurman, B. (2010). A review and meta-analysis of prospective studies of red and processed meat intake and prostate cancer. Nutrition Journal, 9, 50.
  4. World Health Organization. (2015). IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat.
  5. Micha, R., et al. (2010). Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation.
  6. Pan, A., et al. (2012). Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Archives of internal medicine
  7. O'Connor LE, Paddon-Jones D, Wright AJ, Campbell WW. A Mediterranean-style eating pattern with lean, unprocessed red meat has cardiometabolic benefits for adults who are overweight or obese in a randomized, crossover, controlled feeding trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Jul 1;108(1):33-40. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy075. PMID: 29901710; PMCID: PMC6600057.
  8. Dominguez LJ, Di Bella G, Veronese N, Barbagallo M. Impact of Mediterranean Diet on Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases and Longevity. Nutrients. 2021 Jun 12;13(6):2028. doi: 10.3390/nu13062028. PMID: 34204683; PMCID: PMC8231595.
  9. Ferraro PM, Bargagli M, Trinchieri A, Gambaro G. Risk of Kidney Stones: Influence of Dietary Factors, Dietary Patterns, and Vegetarian-Vegan Diets. Nutrients. 2020 Mar 15;12(3):779. doi: 10.3390/nu12030779. PMID: 32183500; PMCID: PMC7146511.

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