Beyond the confusion about red meat and cancer

Beyond the confusion about red meat and cancer

Blogs, Gaston Remmers

Posted on Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 at 9:01 PM by

Since the WHO recently published that the consumption of red and processed meat increases the likeliness of developing bowel cancer, confusion is mounting among consumers all over the world as to what exactly the advice means, and what should be done about it. Dr. Ronit Endevelt, the Director of the Nutrition Department of the Israelian Ministry of Health, dramatically underscored this by sighing that since the WHO-advice, she received over 700 emails of vegan and vegetarian groups demanding the Ministry to oust a ban on meat. She did this statement early November at a European conference on Nutrition in Berlin, where Inspire2Live and Platform Patients and Food formed part of the Dutch delegation.

In public media in The Netherlands, commentators suddenly observe the emergence of a ‘food fear’, that we would be increasingly suffering from: we have become very much afraid of eating something wrong. How is that possible? Over the past 100 years, food in The Netherlands has become undeniably safer to eat. Put simply: you won’t find that easily lead and mercury in food, and the quality of drinking water has become much more stable, so the likeliness of dying from food poisoning has become very small. Is it this kind of doubt that is at the root of our supposed ‘fear for food’? I don’t think so. The source of doubt of citizens has much more to do with the fit of the recommended food for YOU as an INDIVIDUAL. And this is where the problem emerges. The WHO recommendation (that was issued, by the way, much earlier by the World Cancer Research Fund) is a generic recommendation, in which statistic probabilities play an important role. It doesn’t say anything about the appropriateness for YOU. And this is exactly what bothers us at Inspire2Live and Platform Patients and Food. Generic nutritional advice provides a point of departure, and nothing more than that. There is a lot which is not known.

We need to go beyond the confusion. For this to happen, public debate on food and health would greatly benefit if stakeholders would emphasise time and again the individualised match between a person and his or her food. Up till now, it has been driven way too much by an urge to deliver and promote generically applicable truths on food. Both mainstream scientists as many self-proclaimed food gurus suffer from this urge. And we as citizens get infected on the way. Let’s resist this anxiety to find ‘truths’ that are always true; let’s appreciate and research more profoundly that good food is different for everybody. Depending on his or her genetic constitution, lifestyle, condition, phase of life, and phase of treatment.

So what do we do meanwhile with the WHO advice? The best reading from a health perspective seems to be that it is wise to be moderate with the consumption of red and processed meat, according to Prof. Kampman. E.g. simply introduce a couple of meat-less days in a week. From an environmental point of view it is better for the health of our planet to cut it down further, and to substitute meat by plant-based proteins.

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