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As Cancers Rise, Western Diet Becomes an Unpopular US Export

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Like cigarettes and alcohol, no one thinks red meat is good for you. Except maybe its producers.

This month Quality Meat Scotland, a red meat promotional agency, is hosting a seminar at the Moredun Institute in Edinburgh about the health properties (sic) of the fatty acids found in red meat. Keynote speaker is the University of Wisconsin's Mike Pariza who has demonstrated anti-cancer properties in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which, along with Omega 3, is said to be found in grass fed beef and lamb.

Research indicates that CLA can "enhance the immune system" and "help to reduce body fat in healthy, exercising humans," says the online meat trade journal,

Eggs can also help people lose weight says the egg industry. A study cited in the August 17 issue of Feedstuffs, the agribusiness weekly, found that women who ate two eggs with toast every morning lost 65% more weight and 83% more abdomen fat than women who ate bagels and low fat yogurt--though the breakfasts had the same number of calories and the rest of the women's meals didn't differ.

Still, casting meat as a health food is a tough row to hoe.

The "Western diet"--the high fat, excess protein and low fiber way of eating favored in the US--is being vilified all over the planet and not just for contributing to global warming.

A study in the July 16, 2007 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention of 3,002 women in Shanghai, China found that postmenopausal women who ate shrimp, chicken, beef, pork and sweets were 30% more likely to develop breast cancer and especially estrogen receptor-positive cancer. Women who ate tofu, cauliflower, beans and bean sprouts had no increased risk.

Poor countries like Nigeria, are saying thanks but no thanks to the Western diet, rejecting conventional food paternalism which says industrialized nations eat better. The nerve!

"In the 50's, 60s, and 70's, most of our diet in sub-Saharan Africa was not refined or high fat as we are having today," says Dr. Adekunle Adesina, an oncologist/pathologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in the Nigerian Tribune, Lagos' oldest newspaper.

"There was a lot of fibre in our meal at that time, which kept cancers and other diseases at bay. But the Western diets that we are now eating in Africa are highly refined with little fibre."

J. Olufemi Ogunbiyi, a professor of Anatomic Pathology at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan agrees. "It is crucial that we cut down the amount of fat in our diets," he told the Tribune. "Meats, especially red meat, cheeses, eggs and whole milk should also be eaten with utmost caution to prevent some diseases."

Nor is the world view of the Western diet likely to improve soon.

The follow-up to the 1999 landmark American Institute for Cancer Prevention/World Cancer Research Fund study, Food Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a global perspective is due out November 1.

Already Feedstuffs has devoted two spreads preparing its readers for the 7,000-study compendium whose first edition position on their product was: "If eaten at all, red meat to provide less than 10% total energy." Hello?

Still, the Australian meat industry--a big exporter to the US--has some good things to say about meat.

"Red meat has played a significant role in human evolution" it says (see tall ships; leeches) and "trimmed of fat it is generally lean and contains low levels of saturated fats and cholesterol."

Red meat can also "be included in the diet of people with or at risk of heart disease" and, "Strategies for the prevention and treatment of obesity can include lean red meat." (How? Very carefully.)

And cancer concerns?

"The balance of evidence indicates that lean red meat, cooked without charring or heavy browning is not consistently linked to the development of colorectal cancer."

Sounds kind of like smoking.
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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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