Garbanzo Beans for Breakfast
I Heart Bacon
Increased Mortality Risks Associated with Excessive Meat Consumption in Developed Nations
I love bacon. The fried crisp of bacon crumbling between my teeth is unlike any other eating sensation I’ve had. Not the crunch of a potato chip or the fibrous movement of other meats. Somehow salty and sweet, the oily maple flavor I suck out of each strip. Bacon is delicious with everything—crumbled on a salad with blue cheese, wrapped around a chicken breast with brie bubbling out of the center, brittle and standing alone, alongside scrambled eggs.
One strip of bacon contains about five percent of the daily recommended intake of fat.
Low-density lipoprotein molecules are globular, their edges rounded and seamed together like two soap bubbles. But they have a hollow core, an invisibly small hole curved into the center, in which they carry cholesterol. LDL molecules move through our bodies like this, floating innocuously in our bloodstream, bouncing off arterial walls, pausing occasionally to deposit the cholesterol they carry in their inner chamber.
But our bodies are prepared to counter this attack. They send out troops of white blood cells, which swarm to the site of the cholesterol deposit to form what are known as foam cells. Foam cells appear, on a microscope slide, as spongy pink islands in between rivers of white, smeared pink blood dotted with tiny purple spots, like some watercolor membrane. They are foaming, unfortunately, because our white blood cells cannot process the cholesterol—they grow, foaming outwards, until they rupture, depositing more cholesterol, attracting more white blood cells, repeating the cycle.
This is how arteries get blocked. Eventually, these long, tube-shaped blood transporters become so built-up with cholesterol and foam and charging, useless white blood cells that a clot begins to form. This reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, causing extensive damage to the walls, to the rhythm, the function of the heart, as it slows its beats to keep time with the dwindling supply. This is how people die of coronary heart disease.
We can develop coronary heart disease through any number of ways, including genetic predisposition, smoking, being men. But one significant factor is an increased presence of saturated fatty acids that cause these LDL buildups, most primarily from the consumption of factory-farmed red meat. Meat, we in the developing world have been told for a while now, is dangerous. Coronary heart disease may seem like an extreme example, but there are others. Heme iron, present only in animal meat, appears to change the lining of the colon, and cause abnormal cell growth, leading to an increased risk of cancer. Same goes for breast and prostate cancer.
According to a massive study headed by the National Cancer Institute, conducted over the course of a decade on half a million Americans, people who eat more red or processed meat were also more likely to: smoke, weigh more for their height, consume more total calories, consume more than the recommended weekly amount of alcohol, consume more total fat, consume more saturated fat. Subjects who ate more red meat were also less likely to: eat fruits, eat vegetables, eat the recommended daily amount of fiber, take vitamin supplements, be physically active. But the study controlled for all of these other factors and conclusively isolated increased consumption of red and processed meat as a cause for increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
In other words, science agrees that eating more red meat is, in fact, bad for you.
Consuming more red meat, or more processed meat, significantly and conclusively increases our chance of dying sooner than we ought to. But not all meat is created equal. The way we produce it here in the industrialized world—on a steady diet of corn and antibiotics—seems to directly contribute to these increased risks. All other things being equal, eating more than four ounces of red or processed meat a day makes a person 20 to 40 percent more likely to die. Extrapolated to older Americans, ages 50 to 70, over the course of a decade, this means that the deaths of about one and a half million people could have been prevented by eating less meat.
In an editorial published along with these study results, Dr. Barry Popkin of UNC’s School of Public Health recommended the following changes to American diets for avoiding the risks associated with red meat consumption: people should eat a hamburger only once or twice a week instead of every day, a small steak once a week instead of every other day, and a hot dog every month and a half instead of once a week. In place of red meat, non-vegetarians might consider poultry and fish. In general, everyone should increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables. Sounds rough, right?