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The Truth about red meat, bacon and processed meats

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After a recent study of 12 randomised controlled trials with a total of 54,000 people researchers from Dalhousie University in Canada concluded that they‘did not find a statistically significant or an important association in the risk of heart disease, cancer or diabetes for those that consumed less red or processed meat’.

In these studies they found that ‘the certainty of evidence was low to very low, where people reduced portions by three fewer per week’ and they went on to say that ‘Our bottom line recommendation – which is a weak recommendation based on low quality evidence – is that for the majority of people, not everyone, continuing their red and processed meat consumption is the right approach’.

This caused a heated reaction from a number of experts. The World Cancer Research Fund said that they stood by their rigorous research; Cancer Research UK said that bacon and processed meats were definitely linked to more colorectal cancer – one rasher a day increases risk by 20%.

The key issue is that the majority of science is not about fact, it is about interpretation. And there is always a huge variety of research – types, numbers of people used etc.

The Media, as usual, didn’t understand the research ‘Carry on eating Bacon’; you’re ok to eat red meat after all’, was the tone.

But this actually isn’t what was concluded. The researchers said that, based on the 12 studies they had looked at, there wasn’t strong enough evidence to cut back your processed and red meat consumption.

That’s fair. They didn’t look at the role of mTOR in cancer spread or glutamine as a fuel for prostate cancer, or that there’s a world of difference between organic red meat with its high levels of anti-cancer Conjugated Linoleic Acid and common ,mass-market, highly injected beef.

I’m not exactly sure how they got to the last thought which was that advising the man who goes to the Greasy spoon Café for his eggs, sausage and bacon every morning that it is the ‘right approach’ though.

But this highlights a much greater issue in science.

First, the researchers choose a number of studies they think best fit the issue. Other researchers might choose other studies.

Secondly, the researchers draw their conclusions – their views, their interpretations.

Thirdly, the Media write sensationalist headlines and potty presenters start saying “Well I told you there was nothing wrong with eating meat. I’ve done it for years and look at me”. For me this just highlights how non-science overcomes true science.

The issue is risk. And the ‘aggregate of marginal gains’. If someone said to you that reducing red meat consumption would reduce risk of colorectal cancer by 20%, and that lying in the sun for two hours a day (or taking vitamin D) would decrease risk by 30%, and taking a probiotic every day would reduce risk by 10%, and eating 3 meals containing soluble fibre reduced risk by 20% and taking an hours exercise 4 days a week reduces risk by 20%, you’d be daft not to think about doing those things.

You have now halved your chances of colorectal cancer against Mr Average.

The point is that there is no certainty in anything (except death and taxes). Science didn’t prove the world was round. Someone had to get on a boat. Science is not going to prove that by avoiding bacon you will definitely not develop colorectal cancer. Not least of all because when it comes to people, everybody has a different genetic make-up.

What ultimately each of us has to do is sensibly draw our own conclusions, and establish our own interpretations and views. We have to live the life that makes sense to us. You have to have your own Truth.

Go to: Red meat may increase risk of breast cancer