Meat as Carcinogenic as Smoking!!! (and other hysteria) updated, updated

So the World Health Organisations’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has published its report on red and processed meat and decided that they are carcinogenic as tobacco smoke. Naturally I am extremely puzzled as, for 7 million years or so before the onset of agriculture (about 10,000 years ago), meat was all we ate (bar a few leaves and berries) and yet we are, undeniably, still here. I have serious doubts that if every single human being had smoked 20 a day for the last seven million years there would be any of us here at all. So I rushed to the WHO’s website to find the research, to discover it was published in the Lancet only (access denied). Failing that I went straight to the IARC’s website to discover the source data of this new and important study to be greeted with this:

iarc website

Looks like their server hasn’t eaten enough red meat…

Never mind. To allay any immediate fears, here is a sensible info graphic from Cancer Research UK that shows that while the evidence may be the same, the risk is very different.


So in the absence of any real data, and without access to what the report actually says, here is a quote from the furious, if obviously partisan, North American Meat Institute said defining red meat as a cancer hazard defied common sense.

“It was clear, sitting in the IARC meeting, that many of the panellists were aiming for a specific result despite old, weak, inconsistent, self-reported intake data,” said Betsy Booren, the institute’s vice-president of scientific affairs. “They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.”

I have a strange sense of deja vue… where’s my low fat muffin?

27/10/15 – Here’s a link to an explanation from Wired magazine via Paleo Mag via Rob Woolf. As it says, don’t be throwing out your bacon just yet:

28/10/15 – In case you were wondering, after it’s hysterical headlines on Monday, the Guardian has helpfully published the full list of the 116 Group 1 carcinogens, including bacon:


The Politics of Sugar Part 3

The UK Government and Public Health England (the government’s independent advisor on health matters) have given in to pressure and released the delayed report on sugar intake in England and what we should do about it, if anything.  The Guardian newspaper has got an early leaked copy and has published it here:

The eight recommendations are:

  1. Reduce and rebalance the number and type of price promotions in all retail outlets including supermarkets and convenience stores and the out-of-home sector (including restaurants, cafes and takeaways).
  2. Significantly reduce opportunities to market and advertise high-sugar food and drink products to children and adults across all media including digital platforms and through sponsorship.
  3. The setting of a clear definition for high-sugar foods to aid with actions 1 and 2 above. Currently the only regulatory framework for doing this is via the Ofcom nutrient profiling model, which would benefit from being reviewed and strengthened.
  4. Introduction of a broad, structured and transparently monitored programme of gradual sugar reduction in everyday food and drink products, combined with reductions in portion size.
  5. Introduction of a price increase of a minimum of 10% to 20% on high-sugar products through the use of a tax or levy such as on full-sugar soft drinks, based on the emerging evidence of the impact of such measures in other countries.
  6. Adopt, implement and monitor the government buying standards for food and catering services (GBSF) across the public sector, including national and local government and the NHS to the ensure provision and sale of healthier food and drinks in hospitals, leisure centres etc.
  7. Ensure that accredited training in diet and health is routinely delivered to all of those who have opportunities to influence food choices in the catering, fitness and leisure sectors and others within local authorities.
  8. Continue to raise awareness of concerns around sugar levels in the diet to the public as well as health professionals, employers, the food industry etc, encourage action to reduce intakes and provide practical steps to help people lower their own and their families’ sugar intake.

The fifth (but only the fifth) was a recommendation that the government put a levy on high-sugar foods of between 10-20% which seems like a very broad range to me and the third item is to define what those high sugar foods might be. I haven’t read the report yet but I hope that they are talking about the full range of sugars and that different sugars may be described as high in different circumstances. For example extrinsic sugars being considered “higher” than the same quantity of intrinsic sugars. We will see.

Meanwhile the UK press would never let the story get in the way of a good headline.

How Did We Get Here?

We have had almost 60 years of government and scientific advice about what we should be eating. 60 years of being told to reduce fat, especially saturated fat, and replace it with more healthy vegetable (polyunsaturated) oil. 60 years of being told to reduce the amount of red meat we eat and replace it with chicken or fish for fear of the dreaded saturated fat. 60 years of being told to eat more fruit – five a day… Or was it seven a day? Or back down to 5? 

What has happened over those 60 years? Well there has definitely been an effect. We have got fatter and fatter and fatter until we are now so overweight that we may be seeing children born that will be buried by their own parents. How did we get here?

I have just finished Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise a book that sets out to explain how the official dietary advice was developed and by who, what the evidence for it was (or wasn’t) and why it has been so very wrong.



Starting with Ancel Keys and his heart-diet hypothesis she works through the twists and turns of nutrition research and advice from the 1950s to the modern day. She references everything and has interviewed as many people as she can. It is an excellent book by an award winning science journalist. I was particularly pleased she referenced TL Cleave (see an earlier post). 
In her final chapter she explains how the last 60 years have been a huge experiment on the western world with disasterous results that we are now exporting to the developing nations with equally devastating consequences. How saturated fat is good for us and vegetable seed oils are far from good for us. TL Cleave said the same thing in the 1960s. She makes links to ancestral health and Weston A Price and the modern primal movement and finally, bravely and wonderfully, says Dr Atkins was probably right.

But I always knew that anyway.

Great book, well written. Thoroughly recommended. 

The Politics of Sugar Part 2

For the second time in six months, the UK government appears to be sitting on a report that questions (as far as we know) whether we should substantially decrease the amount of sugar in our diet.


Now I have no particular insight into why any government would want to hold up a report that may help people improve their health and lose weight. Maybe the politician responsible has noticed a problem with the research methodology or that some of the scientific evidence is unreliable. Or maybe something else is going on but in the week where we “celebrated” the first ever World Obesity Day, I think our politicians ought to be doing more, doing it better and doing it quicker.