Can eating processed meat cause cancer?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 8.50.35 AMFor anyone reading or watching the news this past week or so, the headline above probably came up. If you are someone who regularly consumes meat it may even have worried you.

So, what is really going on?

The news isn’t always right
First, be aware that this headline is appearing in places that make their money selling subscriptions or advertising. They are in the business of getting your attention. This is already a bit of a conflict of interest. Be aware.

The rumors have been greatly exaggerated
Second, what is really going on here. If you read the articles carefully and maybe even jump over to the study that is cited, you will see that the argument is that processed meat can raise your likelihood of getting colon cancer by about 17%. From what I read, the likelihood of getting colon cancer across the population is about 2%. If high school math serves me, eating processed meat raises my probability for getting colon cancer from 2% to about 2.3%. Is that bad? Well, colon cancer sucks anyway you look at it but this increase is not exactly significant. There are other major risk factors for colon cancer as well and if you are over 50 like me please go and get screened now if you haven’t.

Further this study was a meta-analysis or study of some 800 other studies. This was not a bunch of doctors looking at people under microscopes. It was people looking at other researchers’ studies. And, these other studies were done using the observation of behavior. This means that the subjects of the study had to self report what they were eating, when and how much. For anyone who has tried to keep a food log, you know this is not very accurate.

Is meat really just meat?
Third, is red meat just red meat? Not really. Lets look at three very unscientific categories that I have created for this discussion.

1) Processed meat – This category is made up of products like hot dogs, beef jerky, etc. Meat that is combined with a lot of things that aren’t meat including chemicals and then at the end you get a “product” that may resemble meat. Is it any surprise at all that this bucket of meat products could increase the likelihood of getting cancer? Not at all. Frankly I am surprised the increase is as low as reported above. Everyone should eliminate or limit the intake of any processed foods including processed meats. If you have a high probability for colon cancer due to other risk factors, it is probably smart to eliminate this category altogether.

2) Just plain red meat – The next category would be the hamburger or steak that you eat. Most meat in this category that people consume would be considered commercial or industrial beef. This comes from cows that spend their lives packed into a corral like sardines waddling around in their own feces that require a regular intake of antibiotics just to survive. Additionally, these cows are fed things like grain and scraps of crap that are not in their normal diet. So, what happens when you feed an animal something that it isn’t supposed to eat and make it stand in a crowd in its own shit? It becomes very unhealthy. Again, I ask, is it any surprise that eating some or even a lot of this kind of red meat can increase the risk of cancer? For a double whammy of trouble, the processed meat in the category above will typically come from this commercial, industrial beef.

3) Grass fed organic beef – The last category contains the beef that comes from cattle that have lived in a natural open environment and that have been fed the very diet they evolved to eat: grass. These animals are healthy and active. The beef that comes from these cows is much different than the commercial meat in the category above. To me at least, there is a place for eating grass fed meat or butter or yogurt that comes from grass fed cows fairly regularly in a healthy diet.

Ethical issues are different
Beyond these categories, there are people who avoid meat altogether due to ethical concerns about killing animals, how they are treated or the sustainability of the practice of supplying meat. These are personal decisions and have nothing to do with the health factors above.

What about saturated fat?
Another concern about meat is the intake of saturated fat. Saturated fat has been demonized for years mostly incorrectly. And, now the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. HERE is an article on WebMD on the subject. The bottom line is that eating sugar and processed foods are a lot more dangerous so once you get rid off all of that you can read more carefully about saturated fat and decide what to do. Here is a thought in the meantime. Breast milk (by and large) and our own body fat are forms of saturated fat so I have trouble thinking that it is all bad.

Cooking also matters
One additional thing to think about is cooking. Burning meat or eating it well done can also potentially increase your risk of cancer. Eating it rare, or reducing the amount of crunchy crust on your meat can reduce this risk as can eating a lot of vegetables with your meat. This study doesn’t seem to address how the meat was cooked.

Now what?
So, what do we do? To me you 1) eat as little as possible of the processed meat in bucket number 1 and if you do eat something like bacon or jerky try to make it organic and/or from grass fed cows. 2) Reduce bucket #2 as well when you can and finally 3) Switch your beef intake as much as possible to bucket #3 but still eat in moderation: think 3 times a week not 3 times a day.

If you want more information on this subject and more detail than I am qualified to provide, there is a great discussion in a recent Ben Greenfield podcast HERE.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Worse I was an English Major in college. I did go to a college in the Midwest though where there were many cows around. Seriously though, I urge you to take your health more seriously. Read about your health. Question authority. Everyone is different and what works for the “experts” might not work for you.

Exercise is a bad way to lose weight!

Exercise is a bad way to lose weightThis may sound controversial but it is true. Exercise is a bad way to lose weight. It is a great way to condition your heart and body, to strengthen your bones and improve your brain and potentially lengthen your life, but it is not a good way to lose weight. Why? And, if so, why do so many weight loss ads, systems, tv shows, video workouts, etc. seem to say that it is a great, easy and quick way to lose weight.

But I see on TV that exercise does help me lose weight?

Are they all just lying? Not really. The secret to most of these weight loss schemes is, as you would guess, in the small print. Every one of these ads I have seen or read or heard always sneak in the additional information that you also need to follow the recommended nutrition/diet/food list that comes with the system in order to see results. What they don’t tell you is that you don’t actually need the exercise part to see weight loss results, you just need to eat right.

According to the British Guardian back in April: “Being dangerously overweight is all down to bad diet rather than a lack of exercise, according to a trio of doctors who have reopened the debate about whether food, sedentary lifestyles or both are responsible for the obesity epidemic. In an article for a leading health journal, the authors – who include British cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, an outspoken critic of the food industry – accuse food and drink firms such as Coca-Cola of having wrongly emphasized how physical activity and sport can help prevent people becoming very overweight. The truth, they say, is that while physical activity is useful in reducing the risk of developing heart disease, dementia and other conditions, it “does not promote weight loss”.

Six-pack Abs are made in the kitchen

If it isn’t the gym that drives weight loss than what is it. The answer is simply what you put in your mouth. But it isn’t as we have always heard a “calorie is a calorie”. Weight loss and gain are controlled by hormones like insulin and these hormones are controlled not as much by the number of calories you eat but more by the type of calories you eat. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates, especially highly processed carbs and sugar, your body will constantly be secreting insulin to move this sugar out of the bloodstream. If you aren’t using the energy, the insulin quickly stores it as fat. Also, while Insulin is out running around doing its job, it literally closes the door on using your own fat for energy and thus you are stuck hungry and looking for that next sugar rush instead of burning fat. And, if you run this cycle over and over again for too long your body becomes less sensitive to insulin and thus needs more and more to get rid of the sugar. And, then what? Diabetes.

So what do you do? Well everyone is a little different so you first need to explore sensitivities to things like gluten and dairy, but in general eat fewer processed foods and less added sugar. Check the labels as food companies tend to hide a lot of sugar in everything from Salad Dressing, to Ketchup and Steak Sauce. Better yet if there is a label look at don’t eat it.

What have you found that works for weight loss?

For more great information on this subject, read Fitness Confidential by Vinnie Tortorich, a personal trainer and podcaster. And, Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes, a science journalist.

Stop. Rethink Your Drink. Go On Green

Drinks stoplightThis poster was near the checkout at Shaw’s on Ring Road in Boston. It is great that the City of Boston and the Boston Public Health Commission are trying to get people to eat healthier but they didn’t quite get this one right.

Definitely agree with avoiding the Red light drinks of Soda, Energy and Sport Drinks and Fruit Drinks but what about the Yellow and Green.

Let’s look at Yellow. Diet Soda. Should people drink Diet Soda occasionally? The Mayo Clinic website says that a reasonable amount of diet soda a day – like 2 cans – is okay.  However, the Washington Post in March of this year quotes a study that says diet soda can make you fat as you grow older. Uh Oh. So what do you do? When in doubt, you probably should avoid it and not have it occasionally.

What about 100% Juice? Is that okay occasionally? Well, Dr. Robert Lustig, from the University of California San Francisco and a reknowned expert on obesity and more specifically childhood obesity,  says that fruit juice is just a glass full of sugar and is essentially poison and may be worse for you than soda. This one seems clear. Fruit juice needs to be up with the Red Lights.  Eating fruit however is not a problem as all of the fiber you get in the fruit reduces the impact of all of the sugar.

So finally to the Green Light drinks of water and Skim or 1% Milk?  Can’t argue with water but what about that Milk. It turns out that when you take the fat out of milk you leave behind more and more concentrations of sugar. So Skim Milk is also approaching just another glass of sugar like the fruit juice above.  Dr. Frank Lipman over at the Voice of Sustainable Wellness says to avoid Skim Milk completely for this reason and more.

Thanks to the Boston Public Health Commission for taking a shot here but perhaps an update to more accurately reflect the research and realities around these beverages.

 

 

Is your extra weigh killing you?

imageShocking news being reported in USA Today about a new study that says that the extra weight you are carrying around just could be making you sick.
“About one in five (18%) of deaths among white and African-American people in the USA, ages 40 to 85, are associated with people being overweight or obese, the latest research suggests.”
“Yet several national health experts think that may be an overestimate because of the methodology used for the analysis. Calculations from scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that about 5% of deaths a year in the U.S. are because of obesity.”
“A third of Americans (36%) are obese, which is roughly 35 pounds over a healthy weight. Obesity puts people at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Pinpointing obesity-related deaths is an evolving science as researchers use different statistical models to come up with estimates.”
“‘Obesity has much worse health consequences than people realize,'” says the study’s lead author Ryan Masters, who conducted the research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.”
How do you feel about extra weight? Killing you? Unsightly? No issue? Is it our responsibility to stay healthy and reduce the burden on the nation’s healthcare system or is it the country’s responsibility to help us deal with our health problems or both?

Lost Carb Weekend and Water Weight

imageLast weekend after not exercising much and pigging out on carbs I ended up gaining almost 5 lbs. I then got back to low carb, worked out regularly and had a great weekend of exercise and eating right and pretty much lost it all and more.  Sure a lot of that is water weight due to the reduced glycogen in my system (the storage of glycogen requires a lot of water) but it still has to be some fat loss as well.  And, what about water weight?  Water weight contributes to me feeling bloated and my pants not fitting so what the heck, reducing water weight should count for something. If I can reduce the amount of inflammation and carbs in my system to the point where it doesn’t need to stock pile water, isn’t that a good thing? Any way, I am now about 4 lbs from my intermediate goal and still feeling good.

How do you feel about water weight? 

What is BoomerangFit?

How to get back to when you once were strong

BFit_Logo

Why did I start a blog and why did I call it BoomerangFit?

In March of 2013 I turned 50 years old. I felt like crap. I was overweight. And, I just wasn’t very happy with myself. So, was hitting 50 the beginning of the end or could I try to get back to the fitness and health that I had enjoyed before in my twenties or even thirties? Could I get to peak fitness in my 50s and continue to push myself in mind and body or should I acquiesce to what most people see as the inevitable?

Wikipedia (I know it isn’t always right but close enough for this) says that the post World II baby boom in the United States lasted from approximately 1946 to 1964. I was born in 1963, so I guess I qualify even if only barely. This means that I represent the end of the boom, the last of the so-called Baby Boomers to enter the 5th decade of life while the first boomers are nearing 70. So has the huge population bubble worked its way through the world like a giant bump in the belly of a snake that is now nearing the end of the track or is it possible for us to still have an impact and reach new heights and goals. I have decided that it is possible to continue to succeed and continue to drive towards new accomplishments. Later, when I decided to start a blog because so many people were asking me what I was doing to lose weight, get fit, etc. it occurred to me that Baby Boomers could, like a boomerang, return to the health and fitness they had enjoyed earlier in life so what better name for the blog than BoomerangFit or Boomerangfit.com.

To start this journey, I read a lot of books and tried many diet and fitness fads, advice, etc without much success. Many of the blogs, podcasts and books that I consumed were focused on younger people, more athletic people, women only, etc. None of them really spoke to me. Finally, I came across a book by Rich Roll called Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself. Rich was a great high school and college swimmer who came on tough times with addiction and depression. Rich then hit bottom and worked his way back up to a new life through diet, lifestyle and triathlon. Rich also goes on to become a Vegan. Finding Ultra is a great inspirational read and reading it was the beginning of getting back to when I was strong. Actually, I listened to the audio book that was read by Rich himself. Coming off the high of the book, I started experimenting with becoming a Vegan and started training less in the gym and doing more cycling and running. Unfortunately, the Vegan diet wasn’t working for me. I lost some weight but didn’t feel that great. So I moved on. Also if your note listening to audio books or podcasts when you have down time like driving or exercising, you should try it.

Desperate for more information on how to improve my life, I started to listen to Rich Roll’s podcast as well. Rich has a great podcast that I recommend and it is called appropriately the Rich Roll Podcast. One day, Rich interviewed his neighbor and fellow ultra-sports enthusiast, Vinnie Tortorich. Vinnie is a personal trainer to the stars and quite a character in his own right. He has conquered cancer and has followed a somewhat different path to a new life than Rich. Vinnie’s mantra is No Sugar No Grains or NSNG. For a long list of reasons, he chose to cut out added sugar and grains from his diet and found that he easily lost weight while still maintaining his energy. I tried this approach and also easily lost 20 lbs (I still have more to go) and continue with this approach today. To me, Vinnie’s approach is very reasonable as it focuses on some key points i.e. sugar is bad and grains turn into sugar but then from there it can be very customizable by each individual. Although his this new nutrition approach seemed to work, however, the long distance ultra-athlete lifestyle wasn’t for me. I didn’t really have the time or the correct body type to excel in this area.

Vinnie also has a podcast that spends a lot of time talking about this lifestyle approach. Take note that Vinnie and his podcast co-host Anna Vocino also engage in a lot of explicit and raucous humor mixed in with the nutrition and exercise advice. Additionally, Vinnie has just published his own book with Dean Lorey called Fitness Confidential that is a great overview of this approach as well as some inspirational stories from his life.

It turns out, believe it or not, that all people are different. Some people react to sugar, wheat, dairy, peanuts, soy, corn in many different ways. Some people are allergic to these types of substances, others react with digestive problems or energy loss and others have no issues. So, why not customize how you eat and by extension how you live based on who you are and not based on what some guru, author, neighbor or in-law have done. The problem is that it can cost a lot of money to generate somewhat questionable results with fancy tests on what you can and cannot tolerate. Also, this journey is about more than just what you eat, it is also about how you think and feel, how you exercise and maybe, most importantly, how you sleep. And, throw in on top of it all that the 50+ year old body is just different, you have quite the challenge to get back what you had. Luckily there is another cheaper and easier way to get started and that is the path that I have chosen. Please stay tuned to this space for more information on how you too can Get Back To When You Once Were Strong.

What has your experience been with fitness, health and energy as you have entered your 50s and beyond? Have you found ways to avoid the symptoms of what is commonly thought of as aging?