Research scoffed: long live meat-lovers

18:59, Mar 11 2014
GOOD AND BAD: A study shows a protein-rich diet may expose middle-age people to a higher risk of dying from cancer - but may benefit those aged over 65.

First, here's the bad news: recent research carried out in the United States claims that middle-age people who have a high-protein diet are at much greater risk of dying from cancer than those with a less protein-rich diet. Indeed, some of these experts have claimed that eating meat can be almost as dangerous as smoking.

The good news? Well, it is for me anyway - the study also reveals that for those people over 65, a high-protein diet is helpful because, as we age, we produce less growth hormone; thus losing weight and muscle mass. Animal protein helps combat this loss.

Confidentially, I never had a lot of muscle to start with. In fact, when I was young, I seriously considered auditioning to play the skinny kid who had sand kicked in his face by the bully on the beach in those old Charles Atlas bodybuilding ads.

Be that as it may, I'm rather relieved I won't have to replace my beloved steak and lamb shanks with lentils and lima beans. Pulses have never set my pulse racing.

Don't get me wrong. Thanks to my wife, I do have a pretty healthy diet. It's no coincidence that, throughout summer, every dinner that is served in our household is accompanied by Jill's proclamation "... and all the veges are from the garden".

And they are - Jill's energetic and ambitious vegetable planting programme in spring ensures that, throughout the growing season, we are never short of green beans, corn, carrots, cauliflowers, zucchinis, lettuce, tomatoes or cucumbers.


The produce becomes so abundant there are times when I'm convinced we could become the sole supplier to McCain's vegetable section.

I appreciate the effort and thought behind all this horticulture but, being a Lincolnshire boy at heart, I still appreciate those days when the vegetables are supplemented by lamb chops or the odd roast.

I made a tactical error a few months ago, while on a family holiday in the Marlborough Sounds, of declaring I thought lettuce was the plant equivalent of water: completely tasteless unless drenched in mayonnaise (lettuce, that is, not water), which probably negated any benefits that might accrue from eating it.

It was a view fiercely opposed by my wife and my vegetarian step-daughter. So vociferous was their defence of the lettuce that I refrained from pointing out that it was considered a weed until the ancient Egyptians inadvisably began cultivating it to turn its seeds into oil.

If the Egyptians had had the good sense to buy their oil from their Middle Eastern neighbours, who were awash with the stuff, we could all have been spared the gastronomic mediocrity that is lettuce.

But I was outnumbered so I caved in and accepted that lettuce was an essential ingredient of any decent salad, if only for the colour it lends.

However, back to the recent health survey that points the accusing finger at animal protein.

Morgan Levine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and her colleagues analysed a dietary survey of more than 6300 people in the US aged over 50. They discovered that those people aged 50 to 65 at the time of the survey and who had a high-protein diet - one where protein supplied a fifth of calories - were 75 per cent more likely to have died over the next 18 years than peers who only got 10 per cent of their calories from protein.

And cancer was the killer, with the high-protein eaters four times more likely to die from the disease than their low-protein counterparts. All pretty dire stuff.

However - and this is good news for meat-lovers - a British epidemiologist claims the survey is too small to provide "robust conclusions".

Even better, Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George's Hospital, London, is so sceptical of the survey that she says that, on the strength of this limited study, "we don't need to do anything different and nor should we be worried".

So forthright has Ms Collins been in dismissing this protein scare that I'm tempted to contact her to seek her views on lettuce.

The Timaru Herald