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Don't Go Bacon My Heart

back wrapped in heart shape Recent headlines proclaiming, “The Flip-flop on Meat - Now Bacon is OK” surprised and confused most Americans and enraged many nutritional experts. These headlines were prompted by a highly controversial group of articles published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that concluded the studies linking processed meat and red meat to poor health are flawed and are not conclusive enough to warrant the major health organizations’ advice to cut down on burgers and salami. What’s more, the authors also argued that people like their bacon cheeseburgers so much they are not likely to give them up, no matter what “diet experts” advise.
Keep in mind these are the same authors, who in 2016 published a similar article proclaiming that evidence against sugar was too weak to justify advice to cut down on sugar intake. Now, if there is one recommendation that any dietary expert worth their salt can agree upon, it’s that sugar is public health enemy #1.
Not surprisingly, the authors of these papers have been financially supported by a group of food corporations and agribusiness interests including McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Monsanto, Cargill (one of the largest beef processors in North America), and AgriLife (a program that promotes meat production and marketing). Talk about the fox minding the henhouse - definitely not a good idea to take health advice from these guys when it comes to deciding what’s for dinner.
These new bogus “guidelines” were not endorsed by any legitimate entities such as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, or the World Health Organization, who generally recommend eating meat “in moderation” because many studies have found heavy meat consumption is linked with premature death, various cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.
Bacon Doesn’t Cure Health Worries
Indeed, the studies linking processed meats, such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage with colorectal cancer are rather convincing. In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed malignancy. Studies from the World Cancer Research Fund suggest that excessive consumption of processed meat and red meat increases the risk of cancer by 18%, which may not sound like a big risk - unless you happen to be one of the 18%.
The American Cancer Society estimates that cutting back on processed meats and red meat could prevent 8,000 cancer deaths over the lifetime of 1,000,000 people. Dr. Frank Hu, a renowned nutritional expert from Harvard says, “A moderate reduction in red and processed meat consumption within a healthy eating pattern can reduce total mortality by 13%, heart disease mortality by 14%, cancer mortality by 11%, and type 2 diabetes risk by 24%. Few interventions, including drugs, can do all those things at the same time. Statins, for example, can reduce cardiovascular risk and total mortality, but actually increase the risk for type 2 diabetes and have little effect on cancer.”
A few “Blue Zone” cultures scattered across the world enjoy exceptional health and remarkable longevity, where reaching 90 years of age is the norm and people experience 80% less cardiovascular disease and cancer, and 67% less Alzheimer’s dementia. What do these communities tend to eat? A diet made up mostly of fresh and unprocessed plant foods, including nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and beans, along with fish, and yogurt. Meat is reserved for celebrations or special occasions, and the intake of processed meat is almost non-existent. Common sense tells us to follow their example.
Meat’s Redeeming Qualities
But to be fair, red meat has a lot of redeeming qualities, such as high levels of vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and high-quality protein. On the other hand, processed meats, such as bacon and sausage, are mostly saturated fat cured with carcinogens like nitrites, heterocyclic amines, and excessive salt. For this reason, bacon, ham, sausage and bologna are not on the Joan O’Keefe Diet – though a few bites of these savory foods once a month or less won’t kill you. Think of bacon as the candy of meats – treat it as a rare treat.
This latest round of studies did not change the way Joan and I look at red meat. Instead of fretting about what dietary guidelines tell us to eat, we focus on eating a variety of minimally processed foods - both plant and animal-based—and we consume very few ultra-processed foods. Eating this way makes us feel good. One of our favorite meals is hamburgers; Joan broils extra-lean hamburger to medium-rare, and on top of a juicy 4-ounce burger we pile on homemade guacamole, fresh-cut onions and tomatoes, spinach, and a bit of shredded cheese. No bun, no ketchup, no fries, and no Coke - because we don’t feel as healthy after that kind of burger meal-deal.
Another favorite meal is K.C. strip steak. Again, Joan cooks it to medium-rare, slices it into thin strips and pairs it with a large kale salad dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. We eat these sorts of lean, fresh red meats (lamb chops are another favorite) about once or twice per week, which happens to comply with the American Cancer Society’s advice to limit red meat to “a few” servings a week or less. However, it’s important to emphasize that the vast majority of the protein foods we consume are in the form of wild-caught fish or seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, and non-fat yogurt with an ounce or two cheese once or twice a week.
For perfect health, you need to be consuming about 50 separate nutrients daily - doing so requires a person to eat a wide variety of foods. And we are not talking about a snack-pack variety of potato chips, Skittles, Oreos, and Dr. Pepper. Nope, you should be consuming a variety of foods that don’t even have a label on them like fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, berries, fish, seafood, eggs and yes ... red meat.
The Dark Side of Veganism
The EPIC-Oxford Study has been following 50,000 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans for about 18 years now. The study shows that vegetarians have a higher risk of stroke, though they have a lower risk for coronary heart disease (including heart attacks). These vegans and vegetarians in the EPIC-Oxford Study had lower blood levels of several critically important nutrients including vitamin B12, omega-3, vitamin D, iron, and some essential amino acids (protein building blocks).
Results of other studies from Japan have also shown that vegans - who eat little to no meat, fish, dairy or eggs -have an increased risk of stroke. Moreover, vegans have increased risks for depression, sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), and osteoporosis. We humans are designed to be omnivores, and because vegans shun animal foods, they are typically deficient in many essential nutrients. Arguably the best thing a vegan could do for their health would be to eat a fillet of wild-caught salmon or steak from grass-fed beef a few times a week.
Nose-to-Tail Eating
When our ancient ancestors bagged a mammal, bird, or fish, they ate pretty much the whole animal. In contrast, today we mostly eat just muscle meat, thereby missing out on many key nutrients. For example, if you’re interested in building strong sturdy bones, the best food to eat is … bone. When you consume bones as part of a meal, you will supply your system with the exact mixture of nutrients it needs to construct new bone.
If you’re looking to rejuvenate your skin and make your hair grow thick and lustrous, the best nutrient to eat is collagen - found in abundance not in steak or hamburger, but rather in the skin and bones of an animal. Having joint issues? Eat cartilage off the ends of bones when you have chicken or turkey for a meal. Cartilage contains glucosamine and chondroitin and other compounds that are difficult for an adult mammal to make from scratch, and which are essential for building and maintaining healthy joints.
Not ready to start whole-hog cooking and eating? Sardines, with skin and bones, are one option to get a more complete range of animal food nutrients. King Oscar Wild Caught Sardines in extra virgin olive oil are my personal favorite. I eat a can of these at least twice a week. But realistically, most people are not going to do this. A more practical option is to take collagen powder or pills to help beautify and revitalize your skin and hair.
Additionally, most people aren’t getting enough calcium in their diet, and half of U.S. adults over age 50 have osteopenia or osteoporosis (weak bones). The easy and practical way to remedy this is to take a daily supplement made from organic bone. This provides calcium in its natural form of hydroxyapatite, along with magnesium and other essential minerals in an organic, collagen-rich protein milieu. This a natural and effective way to strengthen and revitalize your skeletal health.
This is super important - don’t get confused by all this glitzy marketing for expensive face creams, biotin or standard calcium supplements. If you can’t or won’t do nose-to-tail eating, and let’s be honest, almost nobody can, consider taking an organic bone supplement and collagen. I promise you will notice the difference.
In Good Health,
James and Joan O'Keefe