I grew up on baloney. Oscar Meyer was my favorite brand – on white bread, with the crust cut off, with just a dab of mustard and a piece of iceberg lettuce on top. The squishier the white bread, the more I liked it.
Occasionally, I’d go for liver sausage, Hebrew National salami or kosher hot dogs. I’d even experiment with grilled cheese, but when I was a kid cured meats were king.
What happened next? The revelation that too much red meat was bad for your health. The more you ate, the more likely you were to have a heart attack or stroke.
Instead, we were told to choose white meat such as chicken and turkey. In fact, “white” became such an important attribute for meat that pork producers worked to convince us pork was “the other white meat.” They wanted us to think a pig was just like a chicken.
A recent study of studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that red meat may not just be bad for the heart but also bad for the pancreas, leading to diabetes. Researchers analyzed the data for 150,000 people, following them over nearly a decade, to determine whether eating red meat increased their risk for developing diabetes.
Researchers found that folks who ate three extra servings of red meat every week increased their risk of developing diabetes by 50 percent. This was regardless of their weight or exercise patterns.
The other surprise was that reducing red meat consumption by three servings a week actually – get this – reduced the chances of getting the dread disease by 14 percent.
Now, I don’t need to tell you diabetes is on the rise. And we know that too much weight and too little exercise lead many of us down the primrose path to diabetes. But red meat?
So why is this? For years we’ve thought that carbohydrates and sugar were the culprits in diabetes because eating too many of these drives the pancreas to produce more and more insulin, eventually burning out that organ.
Apparently, there are other factors in play here, such as the type of protein we eat – such as red meat protein – or the type of fat we consume. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have shown that a poorly understood chemical called TAMO is squirted into the bloodstream when we bite into that juicy burger. Maybe it’s the devil in disguise.
So should you stop eating red meat? Perhaps. But what I’ve discovered is that as soon as I can’t have something, I want it more. So have that burger, brat or steak, but not as often. Try chicken or salmon teriyaki (my favorite). Grill other sausages, such as chicken, turkey or veggie. And try more vegetarian dishes that are flavorful and wholesome.
Some Buffalonians still associate vegetarianism with eating rabbit food. But it’s not three daily servings of iceberg lettuce, it’s good eating.
My spin: Chalk up one more reason for the “less is best” idea when it comes to eating red meat. Drop down a few servings a week and you might avoid the big “D,” diabetes.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a popular radio call-in program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.