March 7, 2013

Processed Meat Linked with Early Death.

Photo: Beau Lebens

Gasp! Processed meats are now being linked with early death.

I know, shocking isn’t it. An article on BBC presents a study of a half million people around Europe with findings that suggest that processed meats are linked with cardiovascular disease, cancer and early deaths.

I think as Americans, this study should especially interest us.

Personally, I was a vegetarian for over a decade (back when it wasn’t cool, or even understood) before rejoining the meat-eating population. For me, eating animal flesh again was actually traumatic, but necessary for my health.

I was a vegetarian who ate well. I didn’t load up on cheese (in fact, while practicing vegetarianism, I was severely lactose intolerant) and I didn’t eat tons of white bread. I didn’t eat meat, but I ate high quality food—and a lot of healthy proteins. However, for my body that wasn’t enough.

I became severely hypoglycemic, despite eating all the “right” foods and eating them regularly; so hypoglycemic that my doctor at the time warned me that it could trip over into diabetes. Needless to say, I reintroduced meat into my diet and haven’t looked back—except for every single time I eat.

Partly, that’s because I’m committed to saying thanks for my food before eating a bite of any size. This helps connect me with what I’m actually consuming.

Yet even though I’ve been a meat eater for almost another decade, I still think of myself as a vegetarian who eats meat. Why?

Because your diet should be plant loaded no matter if you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or cookie monster.

We need healthy plants in our diet; we need color besides red, brown and white.

This particular study should interest us because so much of our food is processed. I’m not speaking to only the carnivores in the room either. How about that Morningstar crap you buy? How about your highly processed food that took a lot of effort (and machine labor) to be transformed into something that resembles, or even tastes like, meat? Our country, as a whole, eats so much processed food it shouldn’t be shocking that our disease rates are sky rocketing—and this study was done in Europe. This epidemic is officially just that—everywhere.

Still, this study encourages that eating meat isn’t unhealthy. Actually, it has health benefits. Rather, this study suggests—wait for it—moderation!

Ah, moderation, our good ol’ friend. How is it that we’re so familiar with you, yet you remain such a stranger to many of us for much of our lives? I think moderation eludes us simply because we’re taught to be anything but moderate.

We work hard, we play hard. We eat hard? Yikes, but yes.

This story suggests that we moderate our meat consumption, especially that of processed meats, by reinforcing the need to increase other foods in our diet that are less plentiful than desired.

This BBC article states that, “Tracy Parker, a heart health dietitian with the British Heart Foundation [says that] “if you eat lots of processed meat, try to vary your diet with other protein choices such as chicken, fish, beans or lentils.””

I think this study is important to bring to elephant journal because many of us in the yoga and wellness community either don’t eat meat or try to eat unprocessed foods in general. Still, they make their way into our lives in unsuspecting places.

For example, Subway. The “healthy” fast food. Let me tell you, read the ingredients on a package of deli meat, and you won’t think it’s so good for you. There are alternatives, though. Earth Fare, a grocery store near me, sells lunch meat with labels presenting four simple ingredients. Here’s the list on the turkey I just ate: turkey breast, water, salt, raw sugar.

Additionally, think of where you’re buying your meat, and try to buy organic and from small farms, rather than supermarket meat (if you care about humane treatment for animals and not consuming animals that are liberally treated with antibiotics).

So why should you care that processed meats are now linked with early death?

Well, hopefully, because you want to live a long and healthy life, but also because you want our country and its people to thrive—and this is not the recipe for thriving.

This discussion is important to bring to the table (no pun intended), but it’s not as simple as it should be. We’re busy, we’re lazy, and we like convenience. We need to start offering alternatives, and it starts at home. Start by packing homemade food for lunch and skipping that greasy spoon. Start by showing your children what food looks like before it’s cooked into obscurity. Start by being the example of this change that we all so desperately need.

I am. I’m starting. That’s a bandwagon that I want to hop onto.


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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