We’ve been hearing for years now how red meat will increase your risk for heart disease and most likely lead to a premature death. There is so much data supporting it’s mortality rate it’s enough to scare even the low to moderate consumers of red meat products. The analysis of the most recent, longterm study was published back in March of this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine, and the subsequent New York Times article about the findings shortly thereafter. The study used data derived from health questionnaires filled out by 121,342 men and women about their health and diet between the years of 1980 and 2006. There were 23,926 deaths in the timespan including 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 were attributed to cancer. Thinking about converting to vegetarianism yet? Is consuming red meat really the automatic death sentence that most research makes it out to be? There is just enough if not more research done on sedentary living and mortality. What is the greater cause for concern? Consuming red meat or not exercising?
The New York Times article also states that the subjects who consumed more red meat were less physically active and more likely to smoke cigarettes. There is further statement of researchers controlling those variables and others, but does not mention how. Out of the 3 behaviors that have become to known as ” evils” in the health and fitness world consuming red meat doesn’t look so bad compared to smoking cigarettes or sedentary living. Combine the three of them together, and it is difficult to blame the cause of death on red meat consumption.
The one thing that isn’t mentioned in most of the older studies is which red meats are the culprit. Only as of late have studies mentioned exactly which meat products are the cause of concern. Products like sausages, hot dogs, and other packaged processed meats are the main villains, and consuming them on a daily basis or even multiple times per day is a common finding to increase risk of death. Some articles have even gone far enough to recommend consuming grass fed beef products as a much safer option than processed meat products.
The most recent information on physical inactivity and mortality rates was published earlier this week, also in the New York Times titled ” The Couch Potato Goes Global”. The article first reports findings from the World Health Organization that sedentary living isn’t restricted to North America and Europe. It’s global spread is why the W.H.O. now finds the total weight combined of human beings on earth exceeds 287 million tons. No cause of the global increase in body weight is mentioned. A little later in the article the author refers to research led by Pedro C. Hallal, a professor at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil in which he used information collected by the W.H.O. In order to gather the data the W.H.O distributed surveys to nations outside of North America and Europe asking them how much exercise and how much they moved on a daily basis. It’s understood this isn’t the most effective way to gauge physical activity, but it is the most up to date information available. According to the results of the surveys 31.1 % of the world’s population is completely sedentary. Meaning they do not get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
Why are red meats so bad?
The cause for concern is the saturated fat content in meats and meat products and the damage they can impose on an individual’s coronary artery system. The big question is can you consume red meats and meet or exceed the physical activity recommendations and be considered at a low risk for mortality? It’s important to understand how many roles fat plays in the daily functions of the human body in order to answer that question. It is also important to understand how fats move through the bloodstream and how they are metabolized through the arteries of a physically active person’s body.
Fats play important health roles
Harvard School of Public Health gives an in depth explanation of fats and cholesterol and roles they play in human physiology. Fats provide a terrific source of energy and a depot for storing it as well. Fats are an important part of cell membranes, they help regulate what goes in and out of cells. Fats can influence muscles’ response to insulin’s ” open up for sugar ” signal. Both fats and cholestorol cannot dissolve in water or blood so the body packs them together into particles called lipoproteins. Some of these lipoproteins are big and fluffy and others are smaller and more compact. The most famous ones are low density lipoproteins (LDL), high density lipoproteins (HDL), and tryglycerides.
Fats and cholesterol – LDL
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. Cells latch onto these particles and extract fat and cholesterol from them. When there is too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, these particles can form deposits in the walls of the coronary arteries and other arteries throughout the body. Such deposits, called plaque, can narrow arteries and limit blood flow. When plaque breaks apart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. Because of this, LDL cholesterol is often referred to as bad, or harmful, cholesterol.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) scavenge cholesterol from the bloodstream, from LDL, and from artery walls and ferry it back to the liver for disposal. Think of HDL as the garbage trucks of the bloodstream. HDL cholesterol is often referred to as good, or protective, cholesterol.
Triglycerides make up most of the fat that you eat and that travels through the bloodstream. As the body’s main vehicle for transporting fats to cells, triglycerides are important for good health. But as is the case for so many things, an excess of triglycerides can be unhealthy.
Lypolisis is the breakdown of tryglicerides to free fatty acids into the bloodstream where they can be transforted to muscle tissue and used for an energy source. It is a multi stage chemical process that is far too complicated to write out in this article. It is important to know that it is lypolysis is triggered by a low blood sugar volume. Meaning lower simple carbohydrate or sugar levels in th blood. This is important because fat metabolism can be stimulated by reducing simple carbohydrates and sugars from a diet.
If a physically active person is meeting the recommended daily amount of exercise and consuming healthy red meats 2-3 times per week he or she will certainly fend off the so called mortality risk of consuming red meats. But if you are considered ” healthy ” by government standards and lead a sedentary lifestyle, you are almost destined for a date with the grim reeper says Dr. Lee who led the study on physical inactivity that is referenced in the ” Couch Potato Goes Global ” article in the New York Times;
“I don’t think most people really understand that not exercising,” even if someone is otherwise healthy, “appears to be just as unhealthy” as smoking or being severely overweight, Dr. Lee says.
The most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau on annual red meat consumption shows a decline in the amounts consumed. If the amount of red meat being consumed is decreasing, why aren’t the obesity and heart disease statistics decreasing? If red meat is such a major cause of heart disease and Americans are consuming less of it, the only explanation is that Americans are also moving less. Nowhere else has it been stated that red meat is as dangerous as smoking or being severly overweight. Healthy red meat choices are a great source of protein, some vitamins like vitamin c, niacin and B12; and minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium. Exercise increases HDL levels to help keep artery walls clear of any plaque build up. Combining consumption of the right types of red meat and exercise can be a very healthy lifestyle due to the increased bloodflow and HDL levels from exercise and the nutrient dense nature of healthy red meats. Combining a physically inactive lifestyle and consuming red meats whether they are healthy or unhealthy options puts you at a greater risk for moratlity. Best advice, put your walking shoes on and walk to the butcher store to purchase 90% lean grass fed beef patties to cook on your grill for your next cookout.