Monday, April 23, 2007

The Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check Stinks

So I opened up the parenting magazine that we've been getting for free since the birth of our latest daughter and I came across this ad from Big Beef telling me that the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada wants me to eat red meat.

So I asked myself, why? Why does the Heart and Stroke Foundation think so much of red meat that they've given it a "Health Check", their symbol meant to indicate a good for your health type option?

I'm not aware of any study that has demonstrated any significant health benefits with red meat consumption.

On the contrary, I'm aware of many studies that have demonstrated the dangers of red meat consumption - from breast cancer (in post-menopausal women, intake of just 60 grams per day increased their risk of breast cancer by 57%), to colon cancer (people who ate the most red meat were almost 40% more likely to develop colon cancer), and diabetes (for every increase in the number of daily servings of red meat there was a 26% increase in the risk of developing diabetes)

So I decided to try to find some studies that demonstrated benefits to the consumption of red meat. I searched Medline for roughly an hour and the only articles I could find had to do with helping young women get enough iron by consuming more red meat.

Is red meat the only source of iron? Nope. Folks can get iron by consuming iron rich foods (iron-fortified cereals, tofu and soy products, poultry, almonds, dates and prunes) along with Vitamin C to help absorption, cooking with iron skillets/cookware, and avoiding the combination of iron rich foods with those that block iron absorption like tea and coffee, high fibre meals and calcium supplements.

Or of course you could also simply go out and buy an iron supplement and take that.

Sometimes proponents of red meat will talk about zinc and vitamin B12. Indeed red meat's a fantastic source of both, but why would I want a source of zinc (also found in poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains and fortified cereals), and B12 (also found in poultry, eggs, mollusks, fish, and fortified cereals) that upped my risk of developing various cancers when I could get both from other sources or once again, go out and buy a supplement?

Going back to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the only answers I have as to their recommendation we eat red meat are cynical ones. The nicest one I can come up with is that they figure folks are going to eat red meat anyhow so they might as well recommend that we eat the leanest cuts therein and in so doing avoid the processed meats that have been shown to worsen the risks of red meat consumption. The meanest ones have to do with them having their heads in the sand, bureaucratic quagmire, or tunnel-vision incompetence.

Health Canada of course wants folks to eat red meat. According to their atrocious Food Guide, they want post-menopausal women to consume up to 150 grams of it a day, thereby increasing their risk of breast cancer by more than 60%, their risk of colon cancer by 40% and their risk of developing diabetes by over 50%.

MMMmmmm super healthy. Way to go Health Canada!

For Health Canada I don't have a nice answer as to why they recommend we consume red meat. For them it's absolutely due to the combination of tunnel-vision incompetence with both political and industry pandering.

When Dr. Walter Willett saw our Food Guide, he had this to say,

"Canadian Guidelines make little distinction between consumption of red meat, beans, fish, and poultry. Although they advocate lean meat, this is only a small fraction of the red meat in the food supply and the guidelines are silent about usual cuts of meat and processed meats, which are a huge part of the North American diet. Thus, the Guidelines seem unbalanced; the evidence would suggest that red meat and particularly processed meats should be limited, and that a combination of fish, poultry, nuts, beans and soy, and occasionally lean meat be the primary protein sources."
(In case you don't remember, Dr. Willett has been the chair of nutrition at Harvard since 1991, is without a doubt the world's leading nutritional epidemiologist and is the second most cited scientist in the history of clinical medicine.)

The only reason I can think of to eat red meat is taste. I adore the taste of red meat, but not for one second do I try to kid myself that red meat is a healthy choice, I simply eat the smallest amount of it that I feel I need in my life in order to be happy.

Plainly and simply red meat is not a healthy choice. It should not have a "Health Check" from the Heart and Stroke Foundation and of course they should and do know better.

This will begin an ongoing series on unhealthy "Health Checks" from the Heart and Stroke Foundation - I will be keeping my eyes peeled for them in the Supermarket. Should anyone out them come across one that they wonder about, please send it my way.