We all want to eat right. But it can be hard to stick to a healthy diet when tasty, unhealthy foods surround us. Sometimes having additional reasons to avoid foods helps us stick to our plan. Having a range of “cons” helps us avoid the “pros.”
For years, we have written about the benefits of eating less meat and more plants. Meat isn’t the healthiest form of protein. Planted-based diets are excellent for the heart. The Mediterranean diet is one of the only diets we support, and it preaches cutting back on meat. But we understand that meat has a huge draw. We eat it all the time, trying to incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle.
Now, if you struggle with urinary tract health, there is an excellent reason to avoid meat. A study has found that bacteria on meat may be responsible for more than half a million UTIs in the U.S. annually.
It has long been known that most bladder infections are caused by the same strain of E. coli the sick individual has in their gut. But researchers wanted to trace where that E. coli was coming from. E. coli on meat can pass through the digestive tract and cause infections that can impact the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.
Researchers looked at samples of chicken, pork and turkey from supermarkets in Arizona and blood and urine samples of people hospitalized for UTIs in the area. They collected their samples of meat and the medical records for a full year. By looking at the bacteria in the human samples, they were able to estimate that eight percent of E. coli-related UTIs are caused by meat. That is 480,000 to 640,000 causes.
Currently, regulators track salmonella and strains of E. coli that cause intestinal problems, but these strains have been ignored. The researchers hope their work might change how food supply chains are monitored and could stop future infections. Many people think UTIs are just an irritating occurrence that hurts but passes. However, if left untreated, it can become severe and lead to blood infections.
“The bladder is a major gateway to patients’ kidneys and bloodstream,” said Dr. Cindy Liu, an author of the study and associate professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington Univ.
Moreover, the E. coli on meat can be antibiotic-resistant. Animals farmed for food are often given far too many antibiotics. That can lead to heartier bacteria, leading to more difficult-to-treat infections.
“As these bacteria become more and more resistant to antibiotics, there’s more infections that are progressing from the bladder, to the kidney, to the blood and, unfortunately, people are dying,” said study co-author Dr. Lance Price, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington Univ.
This research may change how bacteria on meat are monitored. In the meantime, if you struggle with UTIs and have never known the source of the problem, this may be the missing key. You might want to cut back on your meat consumption. And remember, there are ways to make eating meat safer. When you cook meat, wash your hands and cooking surfaces often, use separate chopping boards and plates for raw meat, cook meat until it’s at least 145 F internally and refrigerate leftovers promptly.