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Red Meat. Is it good or bad for you and why all the controversy surrounding it?

When a big topic like this comes to mind, I find it hard to focus and start to type. It’s not because I don’t enjoy these types of blogs. I learn a lot from them. But I know that, in most cases, I’ll never get to learn enough. I know I am about to enter a huge rabbit hole and come out of it with an opinion rather than fact. But, I need to learn more about this as I have a feeling it is going to become even more significant news over the next 5 to 10 years. 

And it all started when I got a phone call from a friend during the week. I was talking about the 8 Week Challenge (no plug this week... or for the rest of the year as it's the last Challenge of 2019). I was saying how well I was getting on with low carb this week and suddenly he hit me with the "I am going to start eating less red meat." "Why?" I asked. Basically, when looking it up online, he read how red meat stays, undigested for a few days, and how some say it is not great for you (side note: the man is not much of a steak eater, to begin with). He asked for my opinion. To be honest, I did not know. If there's one thing I can't stand its people blagging through an answer that they don't quite understand. 

Also, before I go down this rabbit hole, I will acknowledge that first and foremost, I am a Fitness Coach. I know my way in and around the gym and help people achieve their fitness goals. I have some knowledge of nutrition but am not a nutritionist. Most trainers are not, which is why a lot give out some horrible advice when you look deeper into it. 

With that said, I was very curious about this. So, I'm grabbing the shovel, and I'm digging.

Does red meat stay undigested in your stomach for longer than other foods?

2 minutes into googling this and the answer seems to be... no. Oh, so much for this rabbit hole. This might be a short newsletter after all. Red meat can take between 12 - 48 hours to pass through your system. Drinking water can help this process (I know you're waking up every morning to a pint of water!) and, according to the article, nothing just sits in our stomach. 

For some of us, we may have a problem digesting some foods. Some people feel bloated when consuming dairy. Sometimes if we consume too much fibre, we can struggle as well. Unfortunately, in terms of food digestion, the answer is 'it depends'. It's trial and error, and we all can react in different ways to food which is why I don't like just looking at the science as it is not always black and white.

For example, while too much fibre could cause issues, 80% of us do not consume enough fibre. Consuming more fibre, for a lot of us, could help with digestion as long as you gradually increase intake and drink fluids. 

Can red meat give you cancer, heart disease or type 2 diabetes?
Here's where we need a distinction for red meat. A lot of the studies come from other countries. And, as much as I love America, I would prefer Irish food over it any day of the week. Their food is way more processed than ours. 

When studies look at the direct association between red meat (unprocessed) and cancer, the results are "generally weak in magnitude". The problems arise from some studies that link the two because they associate correlation with causation. What else is associated with those who eat red meat that could be linked to these health problems? Is it alcohol? A poor sedentary lifestyle? An overall bad diet with high sugars and low fruit and veg consumption?

A study came out last week that claimed there was little to no need at all to cut down on red or processed meat for health reasons

However, when you look at the study, only 11 of the 14 panellists that conducted the study recommend that you continue to eat unprocessed meat and/or processed meat. But they found little evidence to suggest that eating red meat can be problematic to your health. 

I wish I had stopped here. But the rabbit hole is about to get deeper...

In response to this study, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's The Nutrition Source responded

If you have read all the links up until now in entirety: Merry Christmas because it definitely took that long. To sum up what the counter-argument is:

1. We don't know the initial consumption levels of red meat for every individual to say not to eat less. For example, it might be considered unethical to recommend to someone who eats red meat twice a day to continue to do that. 

2. Even though there's no conclusive evidence, either way, you shouldn't recommend people to do something that could be potentially harmful. 

3. The initial study admits that they did not take the environment into consideration. According to the counter-argument, that was a mistake. 

Studies on the potentially harmful effects of red meat are inconclusive. I feel that the main reason that this will become a bigger issue in the next 5 to 10 years is due to environmental reasons unless there is a breakthrough in the direct correlation between red meat consumption and health risks. 

We get a lot of nutrients from eating animal products such as red meat. For argument sakes, I think if everyone became a vegan tomorrow, a lot of people would struggle to replace those nutrients and eat well. Even with the nutrients that we get from meat, we make bad choices and have a lot of refined, overly processed foods. By taking the meat out of the equation, I don't think we all become healthier. It takes a lot of planning to be healthy right now and, collectively, we are all getting more unhealthy. Going vegan requires even more planning and an increased likelihood of nutrient deficiencies for a lot of people. I'm not saying being vegan is unhealthy at all. But it is harder to consume the right nutrients, and I think that a lot of people would resort to eating overly processed meat alternatives than healthy alternatives to meat.

There's a documentary that's out this week called The Game Changers. It's directed by James Cameron and has a host of stars and athletes in it, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic and Chris Paul. It promotes a more plant-based diet. One of the core principles is the more plants you eat, the healthier you will be. I can't comment on a movie I have not watched it (although I will watch it and hope it has better advice than '1 egg equalling 5 cigarettes' from Netflix's 'What The Health?')

My philosophy on nutrition is always going to be what works for the individual. Taking into account how they feel and how healthy they are on a particular diet. And I think that different foods affect us differently. For me, I would like to sum it up by quoting Arnie himself from a very recent interview. Despite backing off animal products because he feels better-eating greens (and stating consuming animal products is not the only way to get big and strong):

"My favourite thing to cook is, of course, steak".

There's no conclusive proof that red meat causes all these health problems and it seems that having some in your diet can be ok, even for some of those promoting a more plant-based lifestyle.

Ok, I'm climbing out of this rabbit hole!