Saturday, April 1, 2017

Is 'Meat' Bad for us, or Rather the Products we Call 'Meat' - A Mix of Preservatives + Colorings That's Killing Us Slowly?

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce: the worst offenders in the "meat" category. Foods that owe their color, their taste, their shelf-life and their tolerable bacterial count to an amount of food additives that makes me question whether these food products are still "meats".
You will probably remember from previous SuppVersity articles that the association between meat, cancer, diabetes and other ailments of the Western Diabesity Society often vanish when studies successfully adjust the odds ratios for developing one of multiple of these diseases for fresh (=unprocessed) vs. processed meat intake.

One reason for this observation unquestionably is oxidative damage to the protein and fat content of meat product during processing. Unlike these factors and the oxidation of fats that you add when you prepare the meat, there's yet another potential reason for the bad effects of processed meats on our health: many of them are only par meat, part additive.
Meat is an essential part of the "paleo diet" | Learn more about meat at the SuppVersity

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You Eat What You Feed!

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Meat Packaging = Problem?

Grass-Fed Pork? Is it Worth it?
I know that's confusing. So let me explain: As Marco Iammarino, Rosaria Marino and Marzia Albenzio point out in their latest review, "meat products may be compromised by several admitted and not admitted procedures (i.e. addition of food additives and/or foreign proteins)" (Iammarino 2017) - to decide whether it's the meat, as in everything you get from the healthy, naturally reared animal, or the additives which are making you sick is thus impossible and accordingly beyond the scope of this article. What is within its scope, on the other hand, is to provide an overview of what exactly you may be eating on a daily basis and advise on how to reduce your exposure to pseudo-meat, significantly.
Figure 1: Colorectal cancer risk increase w/ 100g and 25g higher intake of total red meat (incl. processed meat) or all processed meats (incl. white meats), respectively (calculated in a meta-analysis by Sandhu et al. 2001), per day.
Now, it would be unfair to say that all meat producers and processors were focusing exclusively on profit maximization. While this is, as we are about to see in this review, clearly the case, battling pathogens, reducing the growth of inert, but still unwanted bacteria and tailoring to our own demand for unperishable goods are actually the primary reasons why producers and processors use food additives such as...
  • colors (cochineal, carminic acid, carmines, allura red AG and caramels),
  • preservatives (sulfites, acetates),
  • acidity regulators (ascorbates, lactates, citrates, and phosphates),
  • polyphosphates and nitrates (sulfites, nitrites, nitrates, etc.)
Many of these ingredients are considered "GRASS" (=generally regarded safe) when consumed on their own and in small quantities. When they get together for an additive-party in the sausages you bought for tomorrow's barbecue, however, they may form a sickening cocktail of which we already know that it will, at least, increase the formation of unwanted compounds such as nitrosamines in your meats (sulphites, nitrites, and nitrates are responsible for this effect).

"For these reasons, the topic ‘food additives in meat and meat products’ has become an
emerging issue in food safety" (Iammarino 2017).

Even if we take a look only at the long list of potentially health relevant (ill) health effects of single food additives, we will find all sorts of ailments - from an allergic reaction to cancer.
  • Sulphiting agents are used in the sulfuring treatment of fresh meat (but also bottled soft drinks, juice, fruit bars, dried foods, salads and fruit salads, or gelatin and coconut, as well as medications and cosmetics) and meant to avoid bacterial contamination and browning of the foods. Unfortunately, they have been implicated in asthma and other allergies (Vally 2009) and the USDA food safety documents list symptoms including chest tightness, hives, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and breathing problems (USDAa) - according to a 1995 paper by M.R. Lester only < .05% of the population are affected, though (Lester 1995).
    Figure 1: There are also naturally sulphated foods, a greater health threat, however, seems to come w/ added sodium or potassium metabisulfite, bisulfite, sodium bisulfite/-sulfite in "meat" products (Lester 1996).
    Even though the USDA requires labeling of sulphating agents if their concentration in the finished meat or poultry food product is 10 ppm or higher, they say that "[o]verall, there is insufficient information available to set a Tolerable Upper Intake Level [often short "URTI"] for sulfate" (USDAb). 
  • Table 1: Nitrate concentrations in selected meat products according to a 2009 study by Menard et al. based on representative data from 138 and 109 food items, respectively, and coming from French monitoring programs between 2000 and 2006 (Menard 2009)
    Nitrates and even more so their cousins, the nitrites, are used in meat curing due to their preservative activity have long been considered harmful food additives for humans because they may interact with secondary amines in the stomach and produce N-nitroso compounds, which are associated with gastric cancer - worst of all, the chronic (ab-)use of nitrate-/nitrite-compounds in agricultural has already raised the "natural" nitrate level to up to 40mg/kg meat, which is still less than the USDA upper limit of ~365mg/kg for nitrate from sodium nitrate and 135mg/kg for nitrite from sodium nitrite, but worrisome, nonetheless.

    With respect to studies investigating the de facto nitrate + nitrite content of meat products, it is interesting to note that the level of nitrate and nitrite in sausages, salami and co. is at least 2-fold higher in Australian vs. US studies (each done with products from local supermarkets) - with Australian salami reaching the USDA limit and US sausages being 50% below that limit.

    As data from Menard et al. (see Table 1) indicates the exact type of meat and, in that, the way it is produced does yet make so much of a difference that it doesn't make sense to compare the Frankfurter's from an Australian study fo breakfast sausages from a US study. Rather than avoiding regional products, it would thus make sense to avoid certain types of processed meat, such as coppa, in which the level of nitrate is ~400 mg/kg and thus higher than the generous USDA limit.
  • Food colorings are used to make foods look the way we expect them to look - including meats; and since the latter are usually deep red, food colorings like cochineal, carminic acid, carmines (E120), Ponceau 4R, cochineal red A (E124) and allura red AG (E129) are used and mixed to achieve the same healthy pink to red tint we expect the perfect chicken breast or stake to have.

    Minced beef and pork are favorite targets for the abuse of food coloring.
    While the former are the only legal food colorings for meat products on the European market, the US FDA still tolerates Red Dye No.3 - a product the cousins of which, i.e. Red Dye No.1 (Ponceau 3R), Red Dye No.2 (Amaranth) and Red Dye No.4 (Scarlet GN), were banned between 1961 and 1976 due to their proven toxic effects on rats, and an agent of which many scientists highlighted its potential toxic effects that this food colouring may exhibit (significant increases in the incidence of thyroid follicular cell hypertrophy, hyperplasia and adenomas in rats | Haschek 1998).

    Another coloring from the same family, Ponceau 4R, on the other hand, is suspected to trigger hyperactivity in kids, prohibited in the US and still allowed in the European Union, where it is used to give chorizo sausage/salchichon and sobrasada their characteristic color - and it is difficult to tell exactly how much has been used. After all, "a complete analytical technique able to identify and simultaneously quantify all of the most important red food colorings (banned and not banned) in meat products is" as Immarino et al. point out "still not available" (Iammarino 2016).
Paleo Goes "Real Science" - First Meta-Analysis of Available RCTs Shows Improvements in Health + Body Composition - Paleo is not just effective, it also allows for a broad range of foods to be consumed - not exclusively fresh meats | more
So what's the take-home message, then? While it is too early to make specific recommendations in form of "avoid" salami from the US and chorizo sausages from Spain, it is quite clear that the best way for meat eaters to make it past their own "best before date" is to avoid processed meats altogether. This will limit your the exposure to added nitrates and sulphites, of which Immarino et al. write in their previously referenced review that they are often used at high concentrations in meats [and may thus] represents a food safety risk" (Immarino 2016), and it will reduce the risk that you consume high amounts of potentially carcinogenic and/or ADHD promoting food colorings from processed meats (note: all these agents can also be used in "fresh" meat that's actually not fresh at all to make it look as if it came right from the butcher) | Comment!
References:
  • González, Carlos A., et al. "Meat intake and risk of stomach and esophageal adenocarcinoma within the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 98.5 (2006): 345-354.
  • Haschek, Wanda M., Colin G. Rousseaux, and Matthew A. Wallig, eds. Fundamentals of toxicologic pathology. Academic Press, 2009.
  • Iammarino, Marco, Rosaria Marino, and Marzia Albenzio. "How meaty? Detection and quantification of adulterants, foreign proteins and food additives in meat products." International Journal of Food Science & Technology 52.4 (2017): 851-863.
  • Lester, Mitchell R. "Sulfite sensitivity: significance in human health." Journal of the American College of Nutrition 14.3 (1995): 229-232.
  • Menard, Céline, et al. "Assessment of dietary exposure of nitrate and nitrite in France." Food Additives and Contaminants 25.8 (2008): 971-988.
  • Sandhu, Manjinder S., Ian R. White, and Klim McPherson. "Systematic review of the prospective cohort studies on meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk." Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers 10.5 (2001): 439-446.
  • Vally, Hassan, Neil LA Misso, and V. Madan. "Clinical effects of sulphite additives." Clinical & Experimental Allergy 39.11 (2009): 1643-1651.