Red meat: Why you must keep your appetite low

In the past, meat was mainly a preserve for a few rich people. The majority (the poor) only tasted it on Easter, Christmas or at big events such as weddings. With more development and better incomes, however, all that has changed. T
It is advisable to substitute red meat with fish and chicken sometimes. (Solomon Asaba)
It is advisable to substitute red meat with fish and chicken sometimes. (Solomon Asaba)

In the past, meat was mainly a preserve for a few rich people. The majority (the poor) only tasted it on Easter, Christmas or at big events such as weddings. With more development and better incomes, however, all that has changed.

Today, many people can hardly spend two days without eating meat in whatever form – cooked or roast. It is also eaten in burgers and steaks among others. However, experts warn that too much consumption of red meat (beef, lamb and pork etc) is tantamount to ‘committing suicide’.

 

Risk of shortened lifespan

 

Alfred Gatabarwa, a general practitioner with Abbey Family Clinic, Remera, says: “Many of today’s cows are fed on grain-based feeds, sometimes pumped with antibiotics and hormones to make them grow faster. And meat products go through even more processing after the animals are slaughtered. They are smoked, cured, treated with nitrates, preservatives and various chemicals, which makes them harmful for human consumption.”

 

A study by Harvard School of Public Health also found a connection between red meat consumption and increased risk of a shortened lifespan. Eating healthier protein sources such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes was associated with a lower risk of mortality.

“We know processed red meat like hot dogs and salami are the worst,” says Larry Santora, the medical director of the Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness in the US.

Risk of diabetes

According to a report published by JAMA Internal Medicine, eating red or processed meat can, over time, increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Specifically, 3.5 ounces of red meat or 1.8 ounces of processed meat (e.g. a hot dog or 2 slices of bacon) daily led to a 19% and 51% increase in diabetes risk, respectively,” says Dan Nadeau, MD, endocrinologist at Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag Hospital in Irvine, California. “Diets rich in animal products contribute to the increased risk incidence of obesity as well as type 2 diabetes in the U.S.”

Heart disease

Audrey Mutabazi, the director of Gasp, a food science consultancy based in Nyarutarama, says a daily serving of red meat can increase the risk of heart disease death by around 19.5%, and the risk of dying from cancer by 13%.

“Time and again research has demonstrated a connection between eating large amounts of red meat and an individual’s risk for heart disease,” he remarks.

Colon and brain at risk

Meat contains a whole lot of iron which, when eaten in excess, can raise levels of iron in the brain and may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study from UCLA. The study says when iron accumulates in the brain, myelin — a fatty tissue that coats nerve fibers — is destroyed. This disrupts brain communication, and signs of Alzheimer’s appear.

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Eating red and processed meats in excess greatly increases one’s risk of getting cancer, diabetes and heart problems. (Solomon Asaba)

Cancer risk

Red meat can increase the likelihood of developing cancer. For example the iron in red meat is contained in a protein called heme, and this protein can easily undergo a chemical change in one’s gut to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds associated with colorectal cancer.

Dr. Santora adds that charring meat increases toxins (nitrosamines) that can lead to cancer of the stomach.

Annabel Akimana, a public health specialist working with Dama Clinic, Remera, advises that when one’s meals include meat, it’s better not to overindulge. Choosing lean cuts and avoiding oversized portions may be a good idea.

A serving of protein should be no more than 3 ounces (85 grams) and should take up no more than one-fourth of a plate. Vegetables and fruits should cover half your plate. And whole grains make up the rest, she says.

She empasises that there is even a greater benefit if one substitutes red meat with equivalent servings of more healthy protein sources, such as fish, poultry, nuts, legumes and low-fat dairy products. Akimana stresses that the benefit is 7% for substituting fish, 14% for poultry, and 19% for nuts.

Situation in Rwanda

Heart disease, diabetes and cancer which have consumption of red meat as a risk factor are among the top four most prevalent non commucable diseases (NCD’s)  in Rwanda.

Last year’s report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Rwanda office shows that the probability of dying between ages 30 and 70 years from the four main NCDs is 19 percent, adding that they are estimated to account for 36 percent of total deaths.

WHO 2013 statistics show that NCDs kill more than 36 million people each year worldwide.

Cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, or 17.3 million people annually, followed by cancers (7.6 million), respiratory diseases (4.2 million), and diabetes (1.3 million).

Red meat not all bad

However, red meat is not completely unhealthy. Research shows that red meat contains amino acids, B vitamins, Iron, vitamin A, zinc, and other nutrients that are very important for us.

Red meat is a major source of iron for example, which is a vital mineral for red blood cell formation.  A deficiency of iron in the diet is the most common dietary cause of anaemia.

“The type of iron found in red meat (haem iron) is more easily absorbed and used by the body than the iron in plant foods such as pulses, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables (non-haem iron),” Mutabazi says.

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