On Monday, a research division of the World Health Organization announced that bacon, sausage, and other processed meats cause cancer and that red meat probably does, too.
The WHO panel that drew up these findings consisted of 22 international experts reviewed decades of research on the link between red meat, processed meats, and cancer.
What do we do? Cut out processed and red meat entirely? Are we destined for a future of LTs instead of BLTs?
The group doesn’t offer much guidance: “The data available for evaluation did not permit a conclusion about whether a safe level exists.”
So, we asked a few physicians to weigh in on this new info and how we should apply it to our lives.
Cardiologist Dr. Jack Wolfson (aka "The Paleo Cardiologist") does not suggest cutting meat out of your diet. He believes meat and seafood — along with vegetables, seeds, and grains — are part of a balanced, healthy diet.
"When people don't eat other foods apart from meat, like vegetables, that's when they run into trouble, like an increased risk of heart disease and cancer," he said. "And it's important to get high-quality, free-range, grass-fed meat. Packaged products from Oscar Meyer or Hormel, on the other hand, are disease-provoking."
As for how often and how much, Dr. Wolfson thinks it's safe (even beneficial) to eat cured meat products one to two times a week, high-quality meat, eggs, or seafood in one meal per day — and in both cases, the meat or animal products should account for no more than 50% of the meal's caloric value.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn believes that we should shun animal products altogether: "Paradigms shift and there was a time doctors smoked on hospital rounds," he said. "This science on meat is of the highest integrity and forces the question for all of us 'Is this meat worth dying for?'" His answer: no way.
Family physician Dr. Aviva Romm takes a middle ground between the Wolfson and Kahn. She does not believe that meat is a necessity in the human diet: "If one is just feeling too worried to eat it, then being a vegetarian is a reasonable option," she said. "But small amounts of organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free meat, or free-range, organic, antibiotic-free poultry can be eaten safely."
She recommends thinking of meat as a side show instead of the main event, as cultures with a high level of longevity tend to (i.e. not the U.S.): "So about 4 oz. of red meat (the size of your palm), and 6 oz. of fish or chicken (the size of your hand) is reasonable, several times each week, or even once or twice daily, if balanced by ample or even abundant amounts of vegetables. How meat is prepared is also important: smoked and charred meats increase health risks, so I recommend avoiding those, as well as avoiding overly salted deli meats."
The one thing the doctors agree on: If you're going to eat red meat, eat high-quality, humanely-raised, organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free meat as a complement to vegetables, grains, and seeds. Is steak for dinner every night a good idea? Definitely not. Is a hot dog at a ballgame every once in a while going to kill you? Probably not. Moderation, guys — you can do it.
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