Commentary: Eating, cooking and the ‘D’ word

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That is, ‘dementia.’ Yes, thanks to some researchers eager to plow new ground, there’s now a new study claiming that cooking your meat makes you senile. Uh . . . I forget why, though.

Anyone who’s alive today has been witness to an entire lifetime of activist attacks on meat-eating, and if you’re a rancher, producer or processor, you’ve been one of the main Steak targets of their ire.

Meat causes heart attacks and strokes — and cancer. Cholesterol is a cold-blooded killer. Saturated fat is totally unhealthy. Diabetes strikes meat-eaters more often than vegetarians.

For activists, the litany of alleged ill effects from consuming animal foods is endless.

Not to mention that the very business of raising cattle or pigs is destroying the entire planet at warp speed, according to the chorus of critics who constantly bash livestock production, meat and poultry processing and the 99.99 percent of foodservice that has built its business on preparing and serving meat and dairy foods.

Never mind that eating meat has been a staple of human existence for oh, three or four hundred thousand years. Forget the fact that the “epidemics” of heart disease and cancer veggie believers always reference as indictments of an omnivorous diet are modern phenomena, emerging only in the last couple generations. And ignore the reality that even the most strident opponents of the consumption of animal products can only point to associations of dietary choices with adverse medical outcomes.

Coincidence, not causation.

For the partisans who believe that humans are ordained to exist on plants only, there are no negative impacts on human health and longevity that cannot be blamed on eating beef, pork or chicken.

Now, there’s yet another (alleged) outcome haters can use to shock consumers: Meat-eating causes dementia.

That’s right. Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York published a study in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stating that “age-related dementia may be causally linked to high levels of foods [containing] advanced glycation end products.”

What are advanced glycation end products (AGEs), you ask? AGEs are formed when proteins or fats react with sugar, which, of course, can routinely occur during cooking, whether browning meat in an oven, or grilling it over an open flame.

“Modern diets are largely heat-processed and as a result contain high levels of advanced glycation end products,” the study’s authors stated. “Dietary AGE products are known to contribute to increased oxidant stress and inflammation, which are linked to the recent epidemics of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

AGEs have also been linked to an accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain — similar to the lesions associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy — that can impair cognitive functioning, as happens in dementia.

As someone who spent a decade struggling to deal with the deterioration caused by the progressive dementia that affected my mom once she hit her 80s, I can testify that the disease — whether associated with Alzheimer’s or as the result of organic neurological damage — can be devastating. And it’s a trauma that has been markedly increasing in prevalence over the last few decades.

Why? Not because we’re suddenly eating more meat or grilling more hamburgers or ordering more blackened redfish at our local Cajun bistros. It’s because — thanks to better nutrition, public health initiatives and the advances of modern medicine — we’re living a lot longer than ever before.

The demographics of virtually any westernized country are sobering. For example: According to the Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, the number of Americans aged 65 and older will increase from 40.22 million today to 88 million by 2050 — more than double the number.

Or how about this? The number of Americans aged 85 and older is projected to increase from about 5.71 million alive today to some 19.04 million by 2050 — nearly quadruple the current total.

Thus it’s safe to say that dementia will continue to be a serious national health issue, because only about 4 percent of all cases occur in anyone younger than 60.

Problems galore

But back to the study and why its conclusions are flawed. Here’s problem No. 1: rodents.

The researchers fed mice a high-AGEs diet and then observed a build-up of proteins in their brains that impaired cognitive functioning — if running through a maze to get a piece of cheese can be considered cognition. The problem is that we’re talking mice, those little, fuzzy white lab animals that are fed high doses of whatever substance is under study — until they develop symptoms significant enough to measure.

Such tactics hardly parallel human lifestyles, where any study of dietary nutrients is compounded by literally dozens of extraneous factors, from genetics to stress levels to the presence (or absence) of environmental contaminants. Even the various neurological and dietary authorities who commented on the Mount Sinai study told BBC News that the results, although “compelling,” did not provide “definitive answers.”

Dr. Simon Ridley, an Alzheimer’s researcher in Great Britain, told BBC News that, “This subject has so far not been well-studied in people, and we don’t yet know whether the amount of AGEs in our diet might affect our risk of dementia.”

And that’s problem the second problem. There’s nothing conclusive about this study as it affects people. If it were true that eating cooked meat leads to dementia, then why is the incidence of this syndrome increasing dramatically, even as per-capita consumption levels of red meat have declined across all of Western Europe and North America? Shouldn’t the rate of dementia be falling in proportion to the decrease in AGEs we’re supposedly ingesting along with our cooked meat?

Right now, more than five million seniors are thought to be suffering from various stages of dementia, a total that is expected to increase to as many as 14 million by 2050.

But there is a way to prevent dementia from increasing exponentially, and it’s got nothing to do with diet.

It’s simplicity itself: Don’t get old.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Wm F.    
South Dakota  |  February, 27, 2014 at 11:16 AM

Hey Dan, I love your analysis. Keep those insights and analyses comming! This time however your conclusion misses the mark. The fact is "...there is a way to prevent dementia from increasing exponentially..." or even cure it and it’s got EVERYTHING to do with diet! Simply put, the dementia epidemic is caused by a modern diet that is horribly difficient in protien and fat. The cure is to eat more animal products, and reduce carbohydrate intake, epecially sugars and, for sensitive members of the population, grains containing gluten! Please dig into the recent book by Dr. David Perlmutter, "The Grain Brain" for the authoritative statement on this subject. There are many others who have come to this conclusion, but David sums it up. His book will change your outlook and may save your life. All the best!

Wyo  |  February, 27, 2014 at 01:12 PM

Way to go Wm F…… of the best responses ever. REALLY, REALLY refreshing to hear from someone who has done their homework and realizes that beef is the single best food you can consume. Trouble is that you DON"T hear it from checkoff folks or industry media. Gary Taubes in GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES also explains the proven science about AGE's.

Germay  |  February, 28, 2014 at 09:13 AM

don't worry, look at this studies: Burkert NT, Muckenhuber J, Großschädl F, Rásky É, Freidl W (2014) Nutrition and Health – The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters: A Matched Sample Study. PLoS ONE 9(2): e88278. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088278 It's not wll for vegetarians in comparison to "normal" eaters. „Moreover, our results showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with poorer health (higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life.” “Overall, vegetarians are in a poorer state of health compared to the other dietary habit groups. … Moreover, these subjects report higher levels of impairment from disorders.” “Overall, our findings reveal that vegetarians report poorer health, follow medical treatment more frequently, have worse preventive health care practices, and have a lower quality of life.“ “Our results have shown that vegetarians report chronic conditions and poorer subjective health more frequently.“ “We found significantly higher cancer incidence rates in vegetarians than in subjects with other dietary habits.“ „Vegetarians in our study suffer significantly more often from anxiety disorder and/or depression.“ „Vegetarians need more medical treatment than subjects following another form of diet.” “Our study has shown that Austrian adults who consume a vegetarian diet are less healthy (i n terms of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), have a lower quality of life , and also require more medical treatment.“

February, 28, 2014 at 09:18 AM

Yes and yes. There are many other highly knowledgeable advocates for beef. You can count on the extensive research of Dr. Weston A. Price, who traveled the world during the 1930s documenting the natural health of many native peoples to support the fact that red meat, raised the right way, is an essential part of a balanced diet. The biggest problems in the health of Americans stem from manufactured foods that contain far too much starch, sugar, preservatives, artificial vitamins, MSG, and other compounds that increase appetite without fueling the body with the amino acids it needs to feel nourished and satisfied. The standard American diet is marketing us to death with additives our bodies don't need, starving our protein-hungry brains, making us fat with too much starch and sugar, compromising our immune systems, and deceiving us with non-digestible fiber. Another author who tells the truth about beef is Jo Robinson, bestselling author of EATING ON THE WILD SIDE and PASTURE PERFECT, an investigative journalist and nationally recognized expert who has "spent the past fifteen years scouring research journals for information on how we can restore vital nutrients to our fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products." If cattlemen really want to produce beef that meets the needs of American consumers, we should all read what these folks have to say about the cattle we raise and the foods they produce that have helped keep people healthy for tens of thousands of years.

southern Minn.  |  February, 28, 2014 at 11:08 AM

please investigate for yourself's what side effects insecticides and herbicides have on or better said ; IN our meats, Milk and eggs. We are what we eat and our animals obviously are also, we have to quit allowing feed into our animals that are food for humans ; they are not only produced to make money, however they have to or quit. My point is that until we get as close to feeding our animals ; just like we would feed that to our child or spouse will we be able to fix the original cause. All the media attention for banning antibiotics is amazing and over whelming ; I am a lifetime Livestock farmer and supporter, antibiotics where made to help support the body's immune system for a short time not a life time and restore the health to that mammal if they eat and drink the best nutrients available for a healthy recovery. Lets all please tell the truth on anti - vs - pro , bodies and do serious research on what antibiotics that are being used as herbicides and what they are doing to the cause of accumulated side effects in human health that we used to never have to even spend money on. Start by looking into what insecticide effect there is on pollinating insects and really study the fact on bugs verses people. if we don't keep our pollinator's they won't be able to keep us. If you really want interesting fact look into foreign protein in our food system.

Minnesota  |  March, 01, 2014 at 08:55 AM

Dan, Mount Sinai Medical Center has one part, right, and that is that the formation of AGEs is connected to our diet, they just so happened to follow the exact same biased path that the past 50 years of dietary mis-guidelines has taken, which is to completely ignore the role of sugar or high glycemic foods in our diet. While cooked meat has been a part of our diet for over 200,000 years, sugar is only a very recent addition. The AGEs particle requires a sugar molecule to bind to protein, fats and Amino acids. We cannot eat a diet devoid of protein, fat or amino acids, but we can and used to eat a diet devoid of added sugar! As recommended in a separate post "Grain Brain" by Dr. David Permlmutter is an excellent read on the subject.

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