I have spent time looking at what people eat in different countries and how it is related to illnesses that kill them.

So what is to blame?

Like other investigators, I found that milk is the food most associated with death from coronary heart disease. Sugar is the food most correlated with death from cancer of the breast, cervix, colon, prostate and lymphatic system.

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Milk and sugar are the foods most associated with death from multiple sclerosis.

And now the question – Have I found any such issue with meat?

No I have not. My research has been extensive and if it were the bad food some people say it is, surely I would have found something.

Gout

Gout is connected with a high consumption of fruit sugar (fructose, which is also in cane and beet sugar and honey). It is probably best known for being connected with having too much alcohol, and there is good reason for that.

It is also connected with having too much purine in the diet, from anchovies, scallops, mussels, roe, trout, herring, tuna, haddock, mackerel, sardines, liver, kidney, heart, red meat and oats.

So the message there would seem to be – eat more poultry and less red meat.

Eat salmon, halibut, sole, plaice, cod and hake. Be satisfied with a one course savoury meal and with savoury snacks.

You don’t need a dessert, or a sweet snack, and don’t over-indulge in alcohol.

If you want to be healthy, avoid sugars

That doesn’t just mean table sugar, or cakes, biscuits and puddings.

It means avoiding the natural sugar in milk, by eating cheese for your calcium instead.

It means having plenty of vegetables but not so much fruit.

Why do some studies tell us that meat is bad?

It is partly because of a lack of discrimination. They lump together good fresh meat with processed meat, preserved with nitrate and nitrite.

Processed meat includes: bacon, ham, pâté, sausage, gammon, tinned meat and meat paste.

Nitrate is converted to nitrite by bacteria in the body. Overheating food converts nitrites to nitrosamines, which cause cancer and perhaps Alzheimer’s.

Nitrosamines can bind to DNA, our genetic material, which can make cancer more likely.

Such studies also pay no heed to whether we are talking about healthy gently cooked stews and casseroles or harshly cooked fried and grilled food.

Vitamin C reduces the production of nitrosamine

is meat good for you_2

Perhaps this is why the natural nitrate in vegetables seems not to be a big problem, as vegetables also contain vitamin C.

Traditionally people often ate meat with potatoes and vegetables. Potatoes are better than pasta or rice, because they are a rich source of vitamin C.

Smoking is chronically bad for you and that is no secret.

It also produces nitrosamines which contribute to cancer. Nitrite isn’t all bad, as it also converts to nitric oxide, which enhances circulation. The key to handling it safely is having vitamin C and only cooking gently.

Another reason a study may work towards a conclusion that meat is bad is if it is based on wealthy Americans, eating excessive quantities in the form of large steaks.

That may not be wise, but it doesn’t mean that smaller portions are an issue.

Saturated fats

Some people think that meat is bad because it contains saturated fats and they were told that these contribute to heart disease.

There was never evidence for this view.

The campaign against saturated fats was based on cherry picking figures that seemed to back up this idea and ignoring all the others.

What are bad are hydrogenated fats, trans fats produced by passing a runny vegetable oil through a pipe, and passing hydrogen the opposite way, using heat and a catalyst, and in this way combining the runny oil and hydrogen together.

This fat is bad for the arteries.

Artery disease is caused by trans fats and sugars, especially milk sugar, as they lead to narrowed arteries. Trans fats can be in crisps, chips, margarine, spreads, biscuits and other processed foods.

The cholesterol argument

Some people think meat is bad because it contains cholesterol.

We all need cholesterol, or our cell membranes would be too floppy.

There is a lot of cholesterol in the brain. Cholesterol is only an issue if it becomes oxidised. Sugars, especially from milk, attach to cholesterol, making it easily oxidised.

Don’t worry about cholesterol in the diet. Worry about the sugars you consume.

* In part 2 Margaret Moss continues to look at why meat is not the bad guy in our diet, but she also warns against the wrong types of meat.

Connect with Expert Margaret Moss.

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