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Could our love of meat be killing us?

LESS IS MORE: Studies suggest limiting your meat intake could improve your health

FROM JERK chicken, egusi stew and curried goat to a traditional Sunday Roast, meat is an essential part of any meal for many in Britain’s Caribbean and African communities.

The idea of giving up it up is unthinkable so there has always been fierce debate around whether people should stop eating meat and opt for a pescetarian (fish-only), vegetarian or vegan alternative.

This debate was recently re-ignited when Dr Michael Mosley decided to look at the risks associated with eating meat for the BBC2 programme Horizon.

In his investigations, Dr Mosley uncovered research from America that suggested eating a small amount of unprocessed red meat (around 3oz or 85kg per day) increased the risk of mortality by 13 per cent, while eating a similar amount of processed red meat - a hot dog or two slices of bacon – enhanced the risk by 20 per cent.

So with research like this in mind, it begs the question: could our love of meat be killing us?

The good news is that contrary to popular stereotypes, there is no evidence to suggest that black people eat more meat than any other group.

However, like other ethnicities, we could be at risk of illness and even death if we eat large amounts of red meat.

RISK

For example, the government’s advice website, NHS Choices, warned: “Evidence shows that there is probably a link between eating red and processed meat, and the risk of bowel cancer. People who eat a lot of these meats are at higher risk of bowel cancer than those who eat small amounts.”

In addition, Gulshiner Johal, senior dietician at The British Dietetic Association (BDA), told The Voice that our genetic makeup and some of our lifestyle and eating choices put us at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.

“Red meat is high in saturated fat, which can raise the cholesterol levels in your blood,” he explained. “Frying red meat or eating processed red meats can be even more detrimental to your heart health. Preparation of foods using palm or coconut oils, which are commonly used in African Caribbean cooking, is also harmful as they are both saturated fats and can increase the risk of heart disease.”

He continued: “Black communities may also be at higher risk of prostate cancer if regular quantities of processed meats such as sausages and patties are eaten. [However] more research needs to be done before this is conclusive.”


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Further, he said: “Increased consumption of fats could also lead to weight gain which can increase the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Processed meats such as fried, breaded chicken, spare ribs, tongue, ox tail and sausages are commonly eaten in the African and Caribbean communities and it is these foods that need to be reduced in the diet. They are high in calories, salt and are often fried.”

Health experts say eating white meats such as chicken and turkey are fine, but concern for their health has already prompted some black Britons such as Vicky* to stop eating meat – even chicken, a staple on many dinner tables.

“I was suffering from extremely heavy periods. I just found out I had fibroids [which disproportionately affects black women] and I was overweight,” said Vicky, a 34-year-old public relations professional from London. “I needed to change because my eating habits were impacting on my health negatively. I cut out all meat and most animal products [such as cheese].”

Just over a year later, Vicky said she is seeing benefits, including dropping a dress size and having lighter periods. She wants to stay on this healthier path and more black people are joining her.

BDA statistics show that around two per cent of the overall UK population are vegetarians and one per cent is vegan. There is no ethnic breakdown but in the black community, anecdotal evidence from the UK and America is showing that many now see meat as a silent killer.

SOUL FOOD

In fact, an article written in The Blade, an American newspaper, said more African Americans are choosing to turn away from ‘soul food’ including fried chicken and are leading vegetarian and vegan lifestyles – a choice long promoted by Rastafarians. Well-known celebrities like tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams have spoken openly about the benefits gained from becoming vegan.


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“Everybody would be better following a vegan lifestyle,” said Peter Smith, the Vegan Society’s communication manager. He said having a vegan diet can improve health and prevent crippling health conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure, which claims the lives of many in Britain’s black communities.

SWITCH

“Usually people who switch from a meat-based diet to a vegan diet will notice usually a drop in blood pressure, will usually lose weight or are able to manage their weight because generally speaking, they are having a lower fat diet and usually cholesterol drops as well.”

Research shows that vegans and vegetarians also have lower heart disease rates if they follow a balanced diet, Johal said.

But Johal and other experts don’t believe people should stop eating meat totally. In fact, a recent European study, published in BMC Medicine in 2013, suggested that eating moderate amounts of red meat had no effect on mortality.

The lowest overall mortality rates were in those eating up to 80g per day, concluded a study called Meat consumption and mortality - results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.

The Department of Health and Johal said meat consumption has no great health risks if done in moderation. They advise people to cut down to 70 grams per day.

Johal said: “There is no need to stop eating meat to help reduce health risk factors. People from the black communities can help reduce their risk of disease by reducing red meat consumption, using healthy cooking practices such as grilling, baking and poaching rather than frying and cutting down on their salt intake. Red meat is an excellent source of protein and minerals such as iron and zinc. As part of a healthy, balanced diet, it can still be eaten in moderation.”

He added: “We should all focus on having a varied, low fat, balanced diet rather than specifically eliminating foods from our diet.”

* Name has been changed

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