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Who Wrote It: The Importance of Taking Media Claims With A Grain of Salt

I received an email from a reader a while back asking me to address a headline that has exploded into the media overnight: that processed and red meats have been definitively linked to cancer. Trusted news sites such as BBC and The Guardian have flooded media channels with news that the World Health Organization (WHO) has made evidence-based claims that link smoked, processed and red meats to the similar effects of carcinogenic chemicals and even smoking. Popular American news channels have exploded over television, radio, and social media- stirring up crazed consumers to demand product recalls and question their lifetime history of dietary choices. Everyone needs to calm down. I do not wish to cite any more news articles than I already have, because I do not wish to promote any resources that may lead you to misinterpreted or false information. I also cannot confirm or debunk this study at the present time because non-academia members are severely under-informed about the exact findings and validity of the study. Here are some things I can confidently offer you while you consider to make your own decisions about ANY food or nutritional study and whether new findings will lead to a change in your consumption habits:

1.) Who funded the study? It is no secret that lobbyists in competing food industries will release information based on studies with very little evidence to discredit their competitors. How are sales in a particular industry doing? Was new legislation just passed that may harm a particular industry enough for them to resort to making extreme claims? How are American eating habits trending? Before you accept a new finding as true, find out who did the research, who funded the study, and the amount of time it took to get to the result. 2.) Nutritional science is a young science. According to a USDA timeline, it was only a little more than 100 years ago that researchers began to ask for funding to study the effects of food on the human body. It has been even less time since recommendations about the general population have been made based on these studies. Since that time, we have confirmed without a doubt that red meat is bad, red meat is healthy, eggs are weird, eggs are healthy, fat will kill you, fats are good, dairy is harmful, dairy is essential… Think about how many times trusted scientists have determined something absolutely, the entire country has changed its eating habits, then the opposite claim was made years later. Remember once that eating up to 6-8 servings of (any) grain per day was recommended by doctors across the country? How many servings are recommended now? Do you think it’s a coincidence that the highest recommended category on the (past) American food pyramid just happened to be in practice while wheat and corn were subsidized by the government to be over produced for cheap, processed foods? Hmm...

3.) Will removing a food from your diet save your life? As new studies are released, think about your overall lifestyle. Do you exercise regularly? Do you eat nutritious food most of the time? Do you avoid processed foods? Do you limit or eliminate your sugar intake? Do you smoke? Do you drink? Before getting caught up in the hype about a particular commodity, ask yourself if it is worth the scare. If your health habits are pristine in every other way and it is of great interest and importance to you, maybe a look at credited research is an option. However if you are overweight, suffer from health ailments, or take part in harmful behaviors, chances are removing one product from your diet is not going to solve all your health concerns. So why get all worked up? Health is a process, not a destination. Don’t let media hype give you something to blame besides your own habits. I cannot confirm or deny this new study, and do not want to provide any false information on such a new finding. However I can offer you this: know where your food comes from. This does not necessarily mean literally, and it is not something you haven’t heard me say before. Don’t eat foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce, buy local when available, limit or eliminate processed foods, and read your food labels. By eating whole foods, organic when necessary, local when possible, you can avoid many of the health scares that seem to pop up every few years. Don’t be quick to jump to conclusions because some attractive person with a microphone told you to. Take social media claims with a grain of salt. Do your research ON the research. What do you think about these claims? What are some suggestions you have to avoid misinformation? Respectful comments only. Since this topic is so new, please provide a (CREDITED) source if you would like to share information about the WHO Meat or any other scientific study.

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