Dairy, beef and BS

| Post published on September 29, 2021
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This week I read one of the worst articles I’ve seen in a while. Joanna Blythman has an agenda and doesn’t mind bending the truth to push it. The Guardian should have clearly marked it as an opinion piece rather than let it appear as an objective feature. The claims made range from bizarre to downright ludicrous. She blames obesity and diabetes on official dietary guidelines – that’s like blaming car accidents on seat belts – if people followed the guidelines there wouldn’t be a health crisis.

She suggests meat, eggs and dairy are the panacea for good health claiming she never swallowed government “healthy eating” advice, objecting on evolutionary grounds. But research shows our ancestors ate a largely vegetarian diet consisting of roast veg, nuts and seeds.

Blythman asks: “Is mother nature a psychopath? Why would she design foods to shorten the lifespan of the human race?” How arrogant – cow’s milk is ideally balanced to fuel the rapid growth of a calf and is so different to human breast milk that it must be reformulated for infants or it could cause kidney damage. Blythman might do well to remember that nature also offers hemlock, deadly nightshade and puffer fish!

She parades one study that found a link between a blood marker (a fatty acid called pentadecanoic acid 15:0, that is mainly found in dairy foods) and a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The authors themselves say more research is needed to see if there is a causal link. Interestingly, those with the highest dairy intake in this study also had a significantly lower BMI, were more active, smoked less, had lower rates of type 2 diabetes and CVD, ate more fruit and vegetables and less processed meat.

Blythman takes a swipe at the 5-A-Day recommendation: “A slogan invented to shift more fruit and veg, but not one to live your life by.” This is both dangerous and misleading – there is a wealth of evidence showing that fruit and veg lower the risk of many illnesses and diseases.

On salt, she says: “Don’t cut out salt completely – a moderate amount is better for you.” Is she trying to kill us? In 2018/19, the average salt intake for adults in England was 8.4 grams per day, 40 per cent higher than the recommended maximum of six grams per day.

Blythman says that the World Health Organisation’s claim that red meat is “probably carcinogenic” has never been substantiated. So, she discounts the association between meat and cancer but upholds a more tenuous link between dairy and lower rates of CVD. We know processed meat causes cancer and some of the mechanisms for red meat may be the same. Blythman obviously wants to have her steak and eat it!

“Association doesn’t mean causation” she says. Yes Ms Blythman, look at your milk study again – cherry-picking facts to suit your agenda will only serve to confuse. Dietary guidelines are based on the bulk of the evidence and not one or two small studies!

Interestingly, the much larger EPIC-Oxford study, looking at over 44,000 people over 11 years, found that compared to meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans weighed less, had lower cholesterol and blood pressure and a 32 per cent lower risk of heart disease. Lots of other studies have found similar – which is why we are advised to reduce meat and dairy and eat more fruit and veg! Read more about how a vegan diet can benefit heart health here.

About the author
Dr. Justine Butler
I joined Viva! as a health campaigner in 2005 after graduating from Bristol University with a PhD in molecular biology. My scientific training helped me research and write numerous reports, guides and fact sheets for Viva! including Meat the Truth, Fish-Free for Life, One in Nine (breast cancer and diet) and the substantial report on the detrimental health effects of consuming dairy; White Lies. This accompanied Viva!’s report The Dark Side of Dairy which spelt out the inherent cruelty of dairy farming. We were the first UK group to take on the dairy industry in this way, and many of our supporters go vegan after reading these reports.

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