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19 Aug
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Is There Anything Left To Eat?

I was watching a programme on BBCtv last night. It was an Horizon programme presented by Michael Mosley. Last night he was exploring the health issues surround the meat we eat.

You have probably heard that red meat (beef, pork, lamb) is bad for you and that white meat (poultry) is good for you. Well Michael Mosley decided to find out if there was any truth to this. One of the things he did, apart from talking to a lot of scientists, was to roughly double his red meat intake to around 130gm (about 4oz) per day. Though I have to admit that some of the meals he was filmed eating looked more like 8oz burgers so I suspect the 4oz limit was not strictly adhered to.

There was a fair bit of sciency talk about why they think red meat might be bad. Some experts thought it was bad, some thought it was good, but what they were universally agreed on was that processed red meat is really bad for you and is highly implicated as a cause of colon/rectal cancer. Processed red meat is sausages, bacon, and ham. Which, unfortunately, are my three favourite red meats. So that was really bad news.

Just a few weeks ago I went up to Scotland with my daughter and her fiancé to stay with them for a holiday. We set off around five in the morning and the first stop was a motorway service station where we enjoyed a delicious bacon roll along, with a cup of coffee, outside in the fresh air at around 7 in the morning, watching the world go by. And although I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday, that bit of the journey sticks in my mind as particularly pleasurable. The trouble with bacon is that it’s delicious. The trouble with ham is that it makes sandwich making truly easy.

Back in the normal everyday world, according to the statistician they brought in to make sense of the numbers, it seems that eating two rashers of bacon a day will knock two years off your life. But those numbers didn’t actually make sense to me because all the real scientists were saying that regular consumption of processed meat shortens your life by 20%. Now when I was at school 20% of 80 years (rough life expectancy) was a lot more than 2 years. It’s a lot closer to 15 years so I’m not quite sure what that means other than you die sooner than you would have if you eat bacon, sausages, and ham on a regular basis.

It seems that unprocessed red meat, and that seems to include mince, has no ill-effect if you eat less than 60gms (2oz) per day. 2oz doesn’t seem like very much to me, so maybe you could be a vegetarian for half the week and eat 4oz of meat on alternate days.  Or maybe eat poultry on your non-red meat days.

Anyway, after the end of the 30 day experiment of eating lots more meat than he normally does what happened to Michael Mosley’s health. I wasn’t taking notes so these figures are from memory. Well, his cholesterol had gone up by 0.2 which apparently is a lot. His weight went up around 8lbs, and he’s a slim guy. But the most worrying was that his blood pressure shot up from a wonderfully healthy 118 to over 140. I can’t remember the diastolic figures but there was a small but significant increase there too.

So what’s the message here?

Very occasional, if any, consumption of processed meats seems to be necessary for good health. Daily consumption of less than 2oz of red meat seems to be ok as long as you also consume a good variety of fresh vegetables as well. What surprised me most was the blood pressure and weight increase. It certainly seems as if cutting out on processed meats and reducing consumption of red meats not only improves your general health and well being, it also helps you lose weight and live longer.

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