advice · eating · food · research

Flip flopping my way down the grocery aisle

by MarthaFitat55

It’s hard to know what we are supposed to do these days. The most recent research suggests recommendations against red meat consumption are flawed, and it’s okay to plop a steak on the BBQ.

Published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study says researchers have not been able to conclude definitively that eating red meat or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease:

The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer has indicated that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, whereas processed meat is considered “carcinogenic” to humans. These recommendations are, however, primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences, nor do they report the absolute magnitude of any possible effects. Furthermore, the organizations that produce guidelines did not conduct or access rigorous systematic reviews of the evidence, were limited in addressing conflicts of interest, and did not explicitly address population values and preferences, raising questions regarding adherence to guideline standards for trustworthiness.”

Come again?

Three women of colour have shocked expressions on their faces.

I haven’t had time to read the study through, but let’s say that reaction was swift and blunt. After all, it was only last winter that Canada released its newly updated food guide recommending we eat less meat and more plant based options. I’m sure we are going to see more discussion because flip-flopping on food recommendations is something food scientists do really well.

Last month Catherine W looked at a study which assessed the life threatening properties of sugary drinks (aka sodas). Two years ago, the Independent trumpeted the value of sugar in maintaining our brain health. Apparently brains love sugar, even if our hearts, circulatory systems and pancreas do not.

Not even a year ago in October (18, 2018), BBC Food published an article extolling the virtues of eggs, saying the humble egg has impressive health credentials. But six months later, in March 2019, the New York Times weighed in on the risks posed by eating eggs (TLDR: cholesterol will kill you!). The study found: Each additional half-egg a day was associated with a 6 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8 percent increased risk of early death.

In the 80s and 90s , we all ditched butter to embrace margarine because we were told the heart-clogging abilities of butter would hasten our demise that much faster (hey eggs, move over!). Butter has been somewhat rehabilitated since then because additional research says a little is okay given that margarine and other trans fasts are actually a whole lot worse.

Oh noes: buttered bread, a boiled egg and a cup of tea for breakfast! Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

In all seriousness, what are we to do? The reality is, as Paul Taylor wrote in the Globe and Mail in March 2016, dietary studies, flawed as they may be, have a huge impact on public health and can shape nutritional habits and food buying patterns. More of us are reading labels, questioning sodium content, and looking more critically at the food we eat even when it’s being marketed as healthful (Beyond Meat Burger anyone?).

It’s a good thing when we can become more critical, and it is even better when we can vary our diet to eat from every part of the rainbow. Everything in moderation so we can ensure all foods can fit (some better than others).

About that study tho — as an omnivore, I will still keep eating meat, but my family and I have embarked on meatless Mondays with a goal to to eat meat free at least two to three meals a week. I’ll still consider the latest study, but I will place in the greater context to understand its implications fully. How about you, dear readers? Are you easily influenced by the latest food research, or are you likely to go your own way regardless of the latest fad?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer in St. John’s.

5 thoughts on “Flip flopping my way down the grocery aisle

  1. I’ve given up on pop culture coverage of food research and go back to the basics. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
    The new Canada Food guide plate makes a kind of sense.
    I think about eating in season, locally grown when that can work and try to keep our grocery bill around $1,500.
    That and trying to balance the things people want to make with what they like to eat…it’s a lot of cognitive load!!

    1. We have been doing the same Nathalie. I have eaten more grapes in the last two months because they have been gorgeous. Come the winter, I will look for more seasonal options…

  2. Nope and yes. I believe in red meat and butter. Doesn’t mean I eat it ALL THE TIME, but when we want it, we eat it. Sometimes I forget to take meat (whether is be beef, chicken, turkey, or pork) out of the freezer or . . . we just don’t have any, so we have a meatless meal. We kinda just eat what I feel like cooking or sometimes what we have available. I know too many people that eat HIGH CHOLESTEROL diets and have low cholesterol and vice-versa so I am not really convinced that dietary cholesterol has that much of an effect on the numbers. I kinda think stress and a diet full of highly processed “fake food” (fat-free, artificial sweeteners, margarine, etc.) is worse than red meat, eggs, and butter . . . but that is just for me. Unfortunately diets are really individual things and studies and governments put out information trying to address the masses and so that ends up looking like a lot of conflicting information. Because there is not a one-size fits all nutrition plan . . . too many factors. Just gotta do the best we can.

  3. I don’t pay an attention to it. I eat a bit of everything, including processed meat. I have friends who follow the trends and my parents are still stuck on margarine.

    Alcohol is a known class 1 carcinogen. No debate. It increases the risk of cancer at All levels of consumption.

    Yet most of the people who seem horrified at the though of eating a hot dog drink alcohol.

    It’s kind of silly. So I stay away from food debates.

  4. I agree with the commenter above who goes by Michael Pollan’s advice: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Basically I eat as much fresh, local, unprocessed food as I can manage, particularly veggies; choose fruit and nuts over candy and chips most of the time; don’t drink sugary things except as a special treat; have eggs every morning; eat fish or fowl two or three times a week, but mostly plant-based meals otherwise; drink almost no alcohol, zero coffee, some tea, and lots of herbal tea and water; avoid overdoing the heavy starches as they just make me feel gross; try to eat seasonally except in the dead of winter (I’d rather not starve); and eat dark chocolate in small quantities daily.

    I eat when I’m hungry, don’t when I’m not, and basically don’t get myself too stressed about what the news says. Science is all about isolating, but eating is all about variety and combination. I’ve seen the flip-flops all my life and it seems to me that eating a variety of unprocessed, local, fresh foods is probably the best way to get all the good stuff and avoid the bad stuff – and if you mix it up enough, even if we do discover that carrots give you cancer or something, chances are you won’t have eaten enough of them for it to matter.

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