Sorry, Meat Industry! U.S. Dietary Guidelines Report Rules Vegan Diet is Best for the Planet

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Meat Industry

Meat and potatoes, it’s the quintessential American meal. Well, based on the new scientific report from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Americans might want to start thinking more along the lines of plant-based meat and potatoes. And not just for the sake of their own health, but for the planet’s health as well.

That’s right, after a long and heated debate over whether or not the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee should take sustainability into consideration when creating the 2015 guidelines, the committee has spoken and they have!

“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet,” states the Committee in their newly released scientific report.

Naturally, this recommendation has the meat industry shaking in their boots, but the fact is, if Americans do not reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products, we will never be able to sustain food production as the population grows. Animal agriculture is also the leading cause of environmental degradation in the U.S. and arguably the entire planet. In the United States alone, at least 170,750 miles of rivers and 2,417,801 lake acres have been deemed “compromised” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of agricultural run-off. Globally, livestock production is responsible for 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

And promoting a primarily plant-based diet is not just better for the planet, but it isbeneficial for people as well. A diet high in whole, plant-based foods and low in saturated fat and cholesterol (mainly found in animal products), is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity.

“Previous advisory panels have noted the value of vegetarian diets, but these recommendations have been expanded to specifically demonstrate how a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of many types of chronic disease,” says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

So, what is not to like about the many lauded benefits of the committee’s recommendations? Well, for one, it deals quite the blow to the animal agricultural industry. When news first surfaced that the Committee might consider suggesting lowering their recommendations for meat and dairy consumption, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association was quick to undercut the decision, releasing a statement from Dr. Richard Thorpe that called the committee “biased” and the draft meat recommendations “absurd.” While the meat industry contends that lean meats can play a role in a healthy, balanced diet – there are plenty of plant-based protein sources that can do a better job (without the cholesterol).

Many environmental and animal rights groups have applauded the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for their report (we certainly did!), but this does not guarantee that these recommendations will be reflected in the official 2015 guidelines. The animal agriculture industry has a significant influence in Washington and there is no doubt that they will throw as many lobbying dollars they possibly can at this “problem” to make it go away.

One thing is certain, however, this report sends a message that many people need to hear: our current food habits are neither sustainable nor healthy. Whether or not the guidelines reflect the findings of this report, we can all actively work to reduce (or completely eliminate) our personal consumption of animal products. When there are so many delicious plant-based options out there, making a better choice for you and the planet has never been easier!

Image source: evilrobotsmash/Flickr

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Meat and Soda Industry are not Happy

Meat and soda industries
Lobbyists for the US meat and soda industries are rallying the troops after a government committee on healthy eating has recommended that Americans consume less red meat and sugary drinks, and more fruit and vegetables. The 571-page report published by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) was dismissed as “flawed” and “nonsensical” by representatives of the meat industry. Soda makers joined in the criticism, saying the panel of experts had gone “beyond its scope” and that high intensity sweeteners criticized by the panel “can be an effective tool in weight loss.”

Although the report has no legal powers, it’s very likely that the government will implement its advice. This will inform new public health campaigns and set federal policy for things like school lunches, which is a program worth $16 billion annually. The report also recommends for the first time ever that Americans consider the sustainability of their food. As with the advice for healthy eating, this means simply eating less meat and more vegetables and plants.

THE ADVICE IS STRAIGHTFORWARD AND FAMILIAR

Even those of us that love a burger and Coke will recognize the DGAC’s advice is hardly radical. “A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts,” says the report, “[It’s] moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.” Surprisingly, however, the report did repeal decades-old advice that individuals limit their intake of cholesterol, noting that there was no clear link between foods high in the nutrient (e.g. eggs and seafood) and health problems.

COFFEE, THANKFULLY, GETS A THUMBS-UP

Thankfully, for the caffeine-addicted among us, the report gives the thumbs-up to moderate coffee consumption, noting that drinking three to five cups of coffee a day “is not associated with increased long-term health risks.” However, the panel added that Americans tended to underestimate their coffee consumption and that three to five cups a day was equal to only two or three servings from Starbucks.

They also highlighted the dangers of energy drinks with high caffeine content, saying that children and adolescents should drink them sparingly, or better still, not at all. Adults should also avoid consuming energy drinks and alcohol together — whether “mixed together or consumed at the same sitting.” This means popular drinks like Red Bull and vodka should be off the cards for those trying to stay healthy. The panel also mooted the idea of a tax on sugary drinks and foods.

As well as recommending that Americans consider the sustainability of their diet, the report highlights the meat industry as a particular environmental concern. “Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use and energy use,” said the report. “This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower.”

BEEF USES 28 TIMES MORE LAND THAN PORK OR POULTRY

The meat industry described the panel’s “foray into the murky waters of sustainability” as “well beyond its scope and expertise,” and pointed out that although the carbon footprint of meat was higher than plants, the two do not deliver an equal amount of nutrients. This is true, of course, but the ratio of environmental impact to nutritional output is not something that can be easily measured. Even among livestock there is much variation. Beef, for example, needs 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water than pork and poultry.

Although the government is free to ignore the DGAC’s advice, the chances are it won’t, said former member Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University. Nestle describes the 2015 report as a “dramatic departure” for the panel, which has previously recommended eating meat as a way to reduce saturated fat intake. “The one thing the Dietary Guidelines have never been allowed to do is say clearly and explicitly to eat less of anything,” Nestle told Politico. “This committee is not burying anything, or obfuscating …They’re just telling it like it is.”

Surprise! I though this was exclusive to cigarettes

Cured Meat Hurts the Lungs

Cured Meat Consumption, Lung Function, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease among United States Adults by Rui Jiang in the April 15, 2007 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found, “Frequent cured meat consumption was associated independently with an obstructive pattern of lung function and increased odds of COPD.”  People who ate cured meats 14 times or more a month had twice the risk of COPD as those who did not eat these meats.  COPD is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly known as emphysema.

Comments: Cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, ham, and luncheon meats, are high in nitrites, used as preservatives, antibacterial agents, and for color fixation.  Nitrites generate reactive nitrogen compounds that may damage the lungs, producing emphysema.  Therefore, in addition to obvious lung toxins, like cigarette smoke, what people eat can also cause debilitating lung disease.  At the other end of the spectrum of food choices, eating fruits and vegetables is associated with healthier lung function.

Foods can be an important part of lung disease prevention, and a healthy diet can also help people with lung disease in three ways:

1)      A low-fat diet will improve the flow of blood to the lungs.  A high-fat diet has been shown to reduce the oxygen in the blood by 20%.
2)      Removal of dairy products, and sometimes wheat products, will decrease the amount of thick mucous produced in the airways.
3)      Losing excess weight will reduce the compression on the lungs caused by an obese abdomen.

Jiang R, Paik DC, Hankinson JL, Barr RG. Cured Meat Consumption, Lung Function, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease among United States Adults.
Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2007 Apr 15;175(8):798-804.

MRSA Superbugs in Meat

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 Dr GregerNutritional Facts

Doctor’s Note

I know I’ve already covered this before, but it continues to shock me that the meat industry can get away with something so forcefully and universally condemned by the public health community. What other industrial sector could get away with putting people at such risk? It speaks to the combined might of the livestock industry and the pharmaceutical industry in holding sway over our democratic process no matter what the human health consequences.

Alberta E. Coli Outbreak

Alberta E. Coli Outbreak Affects 100, Linked To Raw Pork Products

Posted: 09/05/2014 10:15 am EDT Updated: 09/05/2014 11:59 pm EDT

EDMONTON – Alberta’s chief medical officer says 100 people in the province have gotten ill from E. coli linked to raw pork products, including 19 people who have been hospitalized.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has ordered a recall of pork products from V and T Meat and Food in Calgary and Hiep Thanh Trading in Edmonton over concerns they may contain E. coli 0157:H7.

Dr. James Talbot said the two companies — one a grocery store and the other a meat processor that distributes to restaurants — have been shut down.

Late Friday, the CFIA reported that Vinh Fat Food Products of Edmonton had recalled its frozen pork spring rolls, pork buns and pork wontons due to possible E. coli contamination. A spokeswoman for the company said it was a voluntary recall.

“From July 15 to Sept. 4 in this province there have been 153 cases of E. coli. One hundred of them have been associated … to be part of this outbreak and linked to raw pork products,” he said Friday.

“Nineteen people have been hospitalized to date. There have been, fortunately, no deaths.”

Talbot said most people affected by this E. coli strain get diarrhea and are knocked off their feet, but others can suffer more serious problems such as kidney problems or kidney failure.

He said the 100 cases have been linked either directly or indirectly to the companies. The results of more tests are expected Monday.

“We don’t require absolute proof before we go in and act to make sure that public safety is protected,” he said.

Talbot said Alberta Health Services and the CFIA continue to investigate to determine if more products need to be recalled.

The investigation has been complicated by two factors — E. coli bacteria problems are more likely associated with beef products than pork, and the outbreak has mainly affected people from the Asian community, which posed language challenges for investigators, Talbot said.

He said it is the largest E. coli outbreak in Alberta in 15 years, when 42 cases were reported in the province.

The CFIA has designated the recall a Class 1, or high hazard recall.

The agency warns food contaminated with this form of E. coli may not look or smelled spoiled, but could cause health problems and, in severe cases, possible kidney damage or death.

“Consumers, food service establishments, retailers, distributors and manufacturers in Alberta, should not consume, serve, use, or sell certain raw pork products sold by these two retailers/distributors because the raw pork products may be contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7,” the CFIA says in a release.

A list of the affected products can be found here:

http://www.inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/newsroom/food-recall-warnings/complete-listing/2014-09-04/eng/1409875701134/1409875712728

Parasites on the brain

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Chronic Headaches and Pork Parasites
August 26, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 1 Comment

Neurocysticercosis is the sciencey name for an infection of the human central nervous system by pork tapeworm larvae. The invasion of baby pork tapeworms in the brain “has become an increasingly important emerging infection in the United States,” and is the #1 cause of epilepsy in the world. It is the most common parasitic disease of the human brain and used to be found throughout only the developing world (with the exception of Muslim countries, since less pork is consumed there). That all changed about 30 years ago, and now it’s increasingly found throughout North America.

Besides seizures, the pork parasites may actually trigger brain tumors or cause an aneurism or psychiatric manifestation like depression. It can also result in dementia, but with deworming drugs this is often reversible. Only rarely do surgeons have to surgically remove the larvae.

I’ve talked about pork tapeworms before (see my videos Pork Tapeworms on the Brain, Avoiding Epilepsy Through Diet, and Not So Delusional Parasitosis). What’s new is that we now know that they may present as chronic headaches—either migraines or so-called “tension-headaches”—even when the worms in our head are dead. What researchers think is happening is that as our body tries to chip away at the worms’ calcified bodies, bits of them may be released into the rest of our brain causing inflammation that could be contributing to headaches.

This condition is rare even in endemic areas, but we can avoid getting infested with an adult tapeworm in the first place by cooking pork thoroughly. It’s found in some parts of pig carcasses more than others (see the meat chart here), and the worms can be frozen to death no matter how infested the muscles are by storing pork (cut up into small pieces) for a month at subzero temperatures. Then to ensure the larvae are dead the meat is recommended to be cooked for more than two hours. That’s one well-done pork chop!

The New England Journal of Medicine recently featured a case of some guy who must have had thousands of pork tapeworm larvae wriggling through his muscles. In my video, Chronic Headaches and Pork Tapeworms, you can see an x-ray, showing the thousands of little white streaks in this man’s body. Each white streak is a baby tapeworm. That’s why you can get infected by pork, it gets in the muscles. So cannibals might want to cook for two hours too.

Not all parasites are associated with meat, though. An anxious but healthy 32-year-old male physician presented to the family medicine clinic with a sample of suspected parasites from his stools, which had been retrieved from the toilet that same day. They looked to be about an inch long. He had previously traveled to India, had Chinese food the night before—who knows what he had. Maybe it was hookworms? The sample was sent to the microbiology laboratory for analysis. Later that day, the microbiology physician called to report positive identification of Vigna radiata (previously known as Phaseolus aureus) in the stool sample. Or in common parlance, a bean sprout. They were bean sprouts!

“The patient was called and gently but firmly informed of the diagnosis. Given the nature of the identified specimen, the information was presented in a non-judgmental, respectful manner so as not to offend the sensibilities or sensitivities of the patient.”

Their parting advice to fellow physicians in cases of this nature was as follows: “as comical as the findings might seem–try not to laugh!”

Other parasites in meat include toxoplasma (Brain Parasites in Meat), sarcosystis (USDA Parasite Game), and Anisakis (Allergenic Fish Worms). There can even be critters in some dairy products (Cheese Mites and Maggots). Eating Outside Our Kingdom describes a brain malady caused not by meat parasites, but by meat proteins themselves.

One of the nice things about eating plant-based is that plant parasites, like aphids, don’t affect people. When is the last time you heard of someone coming down with a bad case of Dutch elm disease?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: ML Cohen / Flickr

Tagged aneurism, brain disease, brain health, brain parasites, brain surgery, brain tumors, cooking methods, dementia, depression, epilepsy, eye disease, eye health, eye parasites, food poisoning, foodborne illness, headaches, inflammation, meat, migraine, muscle disease, muscle health, neurocysticercosis, parasites, polyphenols, pork seizures, sprouts, surgery, tapeworms

About Michael Greger M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

View all videos by Michael Greger M.D.

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Red and Processed Meat Endangers Health

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Red and Processed Meat Endangers Health

Red and processed meat products increase women’s disease risk, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers from Harvard analyzed the diets and blood of 3,690 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study and found that as total red meat consumption increased, C-reactive protein (CRP, a biomarker of infections and diseases including heart disease and cancer), hemoglobin A1c (an indicator of diabetes risk), and stored iron (a mineral which in excess is associated with heart disease, cancer, and diabetes) also increased. Weight and calorie intake also increased with increased intake of red and processed meat products.