Health risks of sugar and red meat are surprisingly similiar

red-meat-vs-sugarSugar and red meat are two food products that have had a stranglehold on the processed food industry. They are both very enjoyable (to the majority of the people, save the vegans and diabetics), and to some extent, addictive.

Both have been subject to studies that exposed their respective underbellies: the negative impact they have on health once taken in disproportionate amounts. Parties with deep rooted interests in either red meat or sugar have polarized consumers into two highly competitive “tribes.”

In scenes that sometimes resemble more of the mud-slinging you associate with two rivals in a presidential campaign than players in the food industry, there have been findings and counter-findings as to which of the two products has a worse impact on the health of consumers.

Manipulating scientific evidence

Recently, it came to light that a sugar trade group pumped some cash into Harvard Research in the 1960s to skew nutritional reviews in their favor. The reviews conveniently talked down the role sugar plays in causing heart disease. The blame was laid squarely on dietary fat. The sugar trade group wanted the public to change its view that sugar was a principal cause of coronary disease and blame dietary fat instead.

This trend in the food industry of trying to manipulate scientific research is not a once-off. Industry players with deep pockets are willing to go to great lengths to make their products more appealing at the expense of other stakeholders. While this is not ethical, it has polarized peoples’ views, and worryingly, the views of professionals. The consumers bear the brunt of this misinformation at the end of the day.

There is overwhelming evidence that too much sugar is not good for your health. The same applies to red meat. Consuming too much red meat has been attributed to lower life expectancies. Something unprecedented has happened, though. Instead of individually holding both foods responsible for their shortcomings, the industry has chosen sides. The anti-sugar camp has been vocal in letting everyone know it has been unfairly vilified. The anti-meat side does the same.

Sugar vs. red meat

Eating too much sugar, according to the American Heart Association, can cause obesity and heart ailments. Sugar does not contribute much in the form of nutrients, and is not vital to the proper functioning of the body. Unfortunately, we are consuming unhealthy levels of sugar, and this will only come back to bite us. To make it worse, we are doing this without actually realizing it.

Sugars are present in their natural form in foods such as fructose (in fruits) and lactose (in milk). Added sugars in our food come in the shape of sweetening sugar in foods and drinks. The amount of sugar involved is tremendous. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine goes so far as to say that sugar is causing a direct increase in mortality rates because it contributes to cardiovascular disease.

According to a study published in the online publication Archives of Internal Medicine in March 2012, Dr. Frank Hu and his research team set out to learn more about how red meat is linked to mortality. They found that people who consumed a higher than recommended serving of red meat – processed or unprocessed – experienced higher death rates.

“Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers in other studies,” said lead author Dr. An Pan.

So, should we all become vegans or stop eating sugar entirely? Not necessarily; we just need to consume them responsibly.

Instead of taking sides in this debate, we should open our eyes to some facts. Excessive sugar and excessive red meat are killers, period. There is reason to believe that by taking an unbiased approach towards them we may lead healthier lives. They are more similar than we care to admit.

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