Red Meat Dilemma 2 – Hormonal Obesity XXVII

Devotees of the low carb approach faced the red meat dilemma.  Meat was supposed to be non fattening because it was not a carbohydrate.  However, some large studies questioned this assumption.  The fascinating study “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long- Term Weight Gain in Women and Men” demonstrated a rather large correlation between red meat and obesity.  Since proteins could be equally good at stimulating insulin, meat was not nearly as benign as once imagined.wgt and exercise

The experience of countless Atkins acolytes reinforced the trial results.  Millions of dieters in the late 1990s and early 2000s tried the Atkins low carb, high protein approach.  For some, the approach worked.  However, for many more, it didn’t deliver the promised weight loss.  Poplularity waned.

Another interesting tidbit from that study involved the utility of exercise.  Overall, there was a beneficial effect of exercise on weight gain.  No surprise there.  Breaking down each dietary group to quintiles of exercise, you can see that within each dietary group, there is benefit with more exercise.

Comparing the effect of exercise, it is clearly much less beneficial to changes in diet, though.  This, too is not new.  The overwhelmingly important factor in weight gain is diet.  Exercise is secondary.  As we mentioned previously, diet is Batman, exercise is Robin.

The risk of type 2 Diabetes, closely related to obesity was also examined in relation to red meat consumption. “Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis” looked at the same cohort as the previous study.  Analyzing the result separately for processed and unprocessed meat, there was a strong correlation between diabetes and both types of meat.  However, the hazard ratio was only 1.19 for 100 grams of unprocessed red meat compared to 1.5 for 50 grams of processed meat and dm

Putting that into plain English, it means that for every extra 100 grams of unprocessed meat (steak, pork chop etc), there is a 20% increase in risk of diabetes.

For every extra 50 grams of processed meat (bacon, luncheon meats etc) there is a 50% increase in the risk of diabetes.

As we saw in the case of carbohydrates, the toxicity lies not predominantly in the food itself, but in the processing of the food.

Numerous other studies have shown a difference between processed and unprocessed meats.  A systematic review “Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis” showed that there was NO association between unprocessed meats and diabetes, heart disease or stroke, but a 42% increased risk with processed meats.Red meat and chd

Results from the European experience was published in “Meat consumption and mortality–results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.”  Increased mortality and cancer risk was seen predominantly with processed meats.  The effect was much weaker in unprocessed meats and was not statistically significant.

This is yet another body blow to the Atkin’s diet.   The advice to skip the bread and eat all the bacon you wanted was not good.  Sausages, luncheon meats, bacon and other processed meats were not a whole lot better than the processed carbohydrates they were meant to replace. The toxicity is in the processing.

This really makes a lot of sense.  Our bodies evolved to eat many different types of foods without health problems.  Some ancestral diets were very high in meat and fats – such as the Inuit.  Others, like the Kitavans and Okinawans, were heavily carbohydrate dependent.  Yet both traditional diets were associated with good health.  You notice, though that neither one included large amounts of processed food – whether they were processed meats or processed carbohydrates.HOT protein

Looking at our construct for the hormonal obesity theory, we can add the effect of animal protein to the protein raising effect.  This comes with the understanding that there are also protective effects of the protein on satiety and reduced stomach emptying.  Consider the major macronutrients – fats, proteins and carbohydrates.  Both protein and carbohydrates stimulate insulin to differing degrees.  Dietary fats have to least effect in this regard.  However, over the past 4 decades, we have, at the behest of nutritional authorities reduced our intake of dietary fats.  This left us with trying to increase protein or carbohydrates in the diet.  Yet no matter which way we turned, we were doomed to failure.

Thus we can see where the confusion with calories comes in.  Since it appeared that all macronutrients were the same, we imagined that all foods, regardless of nutritional content could be measured in a common unit – the calorie.  We initially tried to follow a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.  When that failed, the Atkins approach of low fat, high protein was tried.  That failed as well.  Now we grope along without any idea about what is happening because we have no framework to understand the underlying aetiology of obesity.

One of the most important points here is that both proteins and carbohydrates come with protective factors.  With carbohydrates, there is the protection of fibre.  Unprocessed carbohydrates contain large amounts of dietary fibre.  Traditional societies often ate upwards of 50-100 grams of fibre.  The standard, highly processed (removes fibre) North American diet trudges along with 15 grams.

With dietary proteins, we are protected by the incretin effect and the slowing of gastric motility.  Dietary protein increases satiety so that we will feel more ‘full’ and eat less at the next meal.  In years past, large meals full of protein would be followed by long periods of fasting in order to ‘digest’.  To a large extent, this does not happen any longer.

While we may indulge in a large meal, such as Thanksgiving, we are paranoid to skip the next meal because we irrationally fear that missing the next meal will ‘wreck’ our metabolism.  We see this in children all the time.  When they are not hungry, they will not eat.  We also see this in wild animals – lions, tigers, snakes etc.  Years of training have prepared us to ignore our own feelings of satiety so that we will eat when the time comes, whether we are hungry or not.  So, we circumvent the protective effect of the incretins by rigidly scheduling our meals 3 times a day, come hell or high water.  You may not be hungry, but by god, you will eat!

There are no intrinsically bad foods, only processed ones.  The further you stray from real food, the more danger you are in.  Should you eat protein bars?  No.  Should you eat meal replacements? No.  Should you drink meal replacement shakes?  (horrified) No.  Should you avoid processed meats and carbohydrates?  To the extent that you can.  It is difficult to completely remove these from our diets.  Therefore we have evolved over the centuries other dietary strategies to ‘detoxify’ or ‘cleanse’ ourselves.  These, dietary strategies too have been lost in the mists of time.  We will rediscover these ancient secrets soon, but yes, it is a cliffhanger.  For now, stick to real food.

Continue here with The Benefits of Vinegar – Hormonal Obesity XXVIII

Start here with Calories Part I – How Do We Gain Weight?

See the entire lecture – The Aetiology of Obesity 3/6 – Trial by Diet

16 Responses

  1. Just providing an update on my usage of the philosophy espoused here. I have now completed 8 months of a restrained fasting regime, eating only a small lunch at 1pm and a normal dinner at 7pm and as yet have seen none of the deleterious effects of skipping my breakfasts or cracks in my mental faculties that the nutritionists warned me about. My recent blood work saw me break records in my HDL (highest ever recorded in my 20 years of testing), TGs way down, non-HDL was lower than ever before, BP was the best I’ve had in decade, waist size down 4 belt holes and weight down by 20lbs, I haven’t noticed any loss in muscle mass or strength which the nutritionist said was bound to happen,-I easily jog 10 Kms without effort, it’s actually easier now than before. I can’t see what could be wrong with this program so I will continue doing this caveman-like diet for now, guess I’m an unevolved specimen of humanity.

  2. Hi Jason,

    I have been doing intermittent fasting for three and a half months (5:2 fast diet). I have been predominantly doing it for weight loss reasons as I have been on medication for hypertension for 5 years and wanted to come off the tablets. Also I have the early stages of osteoarthritis in my knees and am trying to reduce my weight to reduce the impact on my knees. I have had great success so far as I have lost 10 kilograms and come off my blood pressure medication already. However, I have been eating mostly protein on my fast days when I restrict my intake to under 600 calories. I have watched one of your youtube videos and read this article and notice you advocate against high protein while fasting. Can you please give me some advice on what I should be eating on a fast day and how much do you recommend calorie wise I should consume?

    • Adam, I have wondered the same thing…as far as daily calorie intake. While I don’t have much weight to lose, I’d like to get my bodyfat as low as possible for my age. (65) I read, years ago, a great book by Dr. David Reuben called “The Save Your Life Diet” in which he advocated no processed foods, complex carbs, etc. and said that by doing so, your bodyfat woul be lowered to a sustainable level and remain there as long as you continued eating a healthy, natural diet. I don’t recall his advice on fat and protein levels but do recall his 2nd book (Everything You Wanted to Know About Nutrition) where he said to eat full fat foods, cream, etc and that the low fat, simple carb diets recommended by the medical community was bunk.
      Both books are quite dated…early 70s, and were thought to be heresy but now, seem to have been proved to be correct.
      The calories in/calories out theory has always made me curious and I do recall a young researcher/blogger who ate 5000 calories per of low carb, high fat and maintained or lost weight(can’t recall which) and followed that by eating a processed diet of less calories in which he gained significant fat.

  3. How much protein should we eat daily if we are trying to lower our insulin, is there a max number? for I am on a low carb diet and its high fat. What are the limits? the gram thing throws me what is it in ounces of meat or lbs? thanks

  4. There’s a difference between unprocessed meat and processed that isn’t mentioned enough.
    If you check the various nutrition data resources, processed meats are much lower in B vitamins per gram of protein than unprocessed meat. I presume this applies to minerals too, but the critical vitamin for metabolising protein is B6.
    B6 is not usually added to fortified flour or rice. So if someone is eating say frankfurters in buns with mustard, or luncheon meat in a sandwich, and a soda, they could have a relatively high protein intake but low B6 – this could not happen in nature, where the two come together in all unprocessed foods.
    Micronutrient inadequacies, almost by definition, expose us to more risk of disease. The usual supplementary form of B6 (pyridoxine), while curative of the deficiency syndrome, is more toxic than the other forms found in food (pyrodoxal, pyridoxamine, and p-5-p). Meat is an important form of nutritional insurance in low-income diets, and the use of processed meats is cheating people of some of the nutrients they would get from unprocessed meat.

    • Absolutely. The toxicity lies not in the food, but in the processing. Our bodies have evolved to eat unprocessed meat, not spam.

  5. […] Continue here with Red  Meat Dilemma II – Hormonal Obesity XXVII […]

  6. michael kunesh

    any thoughts on the why processed meats have their negative effect. Is it nitrates? Pork belly which is the source of bacon is actually natural and can be eaten unprocessed. some have tried to make bacon without nitrates and minimal processing. perhaps this would make it safer

  7. Dr.Garry Lee

    can you exclude the confounder effect in processed meat? People who eat processed meat are generally, people who don’t give a $#I£. I can’t see what it is in processed meat that makes it apparently toxic. There’s as much nitrite etc in vegetables as in there is in bacon. A correlation has to have a reasonable hypothesis as regards mechanism to be even considered as a cause.

    • Association studies always have that problem of confounders. Since this is the best data we have, everything is basically a hypothesis. I don’t really know if processed meats are causally related or whether it is simply a marker of unhealthy habits (ie. people who don’t give a $#@*)

      • Personally, I think it’s the latter. While I usually don’t eat much “processed” meat, I do eat (fresh) sausages and liverwurst. Liverwurst is particularly good, because it’s way high in fat (75+% usually). I will occasionally eat lunch meats, too.

  8. Cassandra

    Given the demonization of red meat in general, until recently, I would wager that the “don’t give a $&^#” effect is responsible for the association of any meat eating and increased mortality: burgers with buns, fries and soda, steak with the key lime pie for dessert, etc.

    This post is only slightly endangering my 3-day fast. Got to go drink tea now.

  9. Excellent article by Jason Fung, full of wisdom. I would just add that to lose weight, it’s not about how many extra calories you eat or don’t eat. It’s about what type of food you eat, regardless of the amount of calories. Furthermore, you cannot lose weight by trying to eat less calories than your so-called ‘basal metabolic rate’. To know more see ‘The Great BMR Myth’ at Russell Eaton, author of ‘The Lipo Diet’

  10. […] פוסט זה מוגש כשירות לציבור. הזכויות על התוכן שייכות לכותב של הפוסט המקורי. את הפוסט המקורי ניתן למצוא בכתובת הזאת. […]

  11. “The fascinating study “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long- Term Weight Gain in Women and Men” demonstrated a rather large correlation between red meat and obesity”. To be honest, i don’t think so… To prove such a thing, people that are tested should not consume any other food that can have the same effect. A lot of people associate meat with potatoes, with various sweet sauces and beverages….

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