New Study Rates Dangers of Smoking, Red Meat Eating, Low-Veggie Diet

For most, the New Year brings many new resolutions. Some of those revolve around quitting smoking or consuming healthier foods to rid old habits and begin a new healthy path.

Key takeaways:
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    University of Washington researchers find substantial evidence linking smoking to various diseases including multiple forms of cancer.
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    Information continues to fluctuate high red meat consumption leading to serious health complications.
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    Diets with low vegetables are not proven to lead to serious health complications according to five-star scale.

Analysis conducted by researchers surveyed multiple risk factors and graded the strength of evidence from within the study. The scale was one-through-five stars, with five-stars displaying highest levels of evidence linking the risk factor to a disease.

Some of the risk factors included smoking along with a diet low in vegetables, and high red meat intake. The study was published by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Oct. 10, 2022.

They found evidence lacked in red-meat consumption leading to colon, breast and rectum cancer, showing only a two-star threat. Little proof was also found with low vegetable consumption, however there was a substantial affirmation of smoking being a major cause of multiple diseases.

Five-star or four-star grades on smoking leading to a certain disease include:

  • Pharynx cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Lower extremity peripheral arterial disease
  • Aortic aneurysm
  • Tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

The resounding evidence of smoking being detrimental to one’s health is no shocker. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cigarette smoking is still a major harm to America’s population, responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year.

In 2020, it is estimated 12.5% of adults 18 years and older smoke cigarettes in the U.S. The CDC also finds smoking is more prevalent in low-income individuals, with many either on Medicaid or uninsured.

What is the deal behind red meat?

According to the five-star scale study, red meat is not a serious threat. Despite this, numbers from Harvard spanning nearly 30 years of data found red meat diets more likely to cause health complications such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Dr. Frank Hu is the chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard and one of the main architects of the study mentioned. In a piece published by the university, Hu highlights the health benefits that come with red meat inducing high amounts of protein and vitamin B12. Nonetheless, Hu highlights substitutes such as poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and even plant-based diets as being superior due to low health risks.

"Instead of the main course, use red meat as a side dish," Hu said. "Consider red meat a luxury and not a staple food.”

Hu’s conclusions contradict the five-star scale, and with conflicting opinions on the red meat debate — how do you know what is true? Perhaps, the whole story isn’t being told in red-meat diets.

Tony Jimenez (MS,RD) is a health professional in the Beehive State and is not surprised by the findings in the five-star scale study in remarks to Healthnews.

“There are several other research projects that show when red meat or other foods of high fats and cholesterol are consumed with excess carbohydrates — that's when you start to see the bad side effects,” Jiminez said. “It is not necessarily the fat or the cholesterol (in red meat), but other things that we consume that contribute.”

Red meat consumption is expected to decrease in 2022 based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to less supply.

Diets low in vegetable consumption

Also of note from the five-star scale research was low veggie diets not necessarily leading to various illnesses. The most severe outcome from diets including low vegetable intake was ischemic stroke, garnering a three star rating.

Currently, vegetable consumption is dropping in the U.S. The 2020 PBH State of the Plate research found 90% of Americans do not have the required amount of veggie serving per day. In total, vegetable intake has fallen 10% since 2004.

Outcomes receiving a two-star rating from low vegetable diets include:

  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Intracerebral hemorrhage
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Esophageal cancer

Although some diets may not feature high amounts of vegetables, Jiminez highlights a sole sector of one’s diet — does not paint the whole picture.

“What are the other nutrients they are eating,” Jimenez asks. “If you are eating hot dogs and bacon every day, with little amounts of vegetables, then there should be some sort of side effect. If they are having low amounts of vegetables, but eating other healthy choices — I really just think there is more to it than vegetables versus non-vegetables.”

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