Mountains of research and study after study from around the world have demonstrated that the more meat people eat, the higher risk of developing cancer.
Processed meat that is salted, cured and smoked with chemical preservatives such as nitrates are particularly harmful if eaten regularly.
The World Health Organization recently declared that there is no safe level of these processed meats, such as, salami, bacon, bologna, ham, pepperoni, sausage, hot dogs, etc in a healthy diet due to being ‘carcinogenic to humans’.
These processed meats are loaded with salt, fat and preservatives that counteract any nutritional value of the original meat that has been cured.
On the other hand, beef, pork, lamb and veal cuts of red meat have important nutrients, such as protein, iron and vitamin B12, but are still labelled as ‘probably carcinogenic’ with links to colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer.
The risk rises with the amount consumed. How much and how often are key considerations for the meat-eater.
With red meat, there are many factors that can lead to cancer development.
The method of cooking can be a factor. For example, barbecuing at high temperatures with dripping fat in direct contact with flames can create heterocyclamines and other harmful chemicals, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
The portion size of meat can also be a factor with the XL ‘meat-lovers’ size steaks a growing concern, if it’s a common staple for a meal.
The lifestyle and way of eating deemed the ‘Western diet’ can be a big contributor to the problem. Plate-sized steaks with potato dripping with butter and sour cream, with barely any vegetables in the meal is an example of the ‘meat and potato’ diet that will set the individual up for chronic health conditions. Popular fad diets, such as the ‘Paleo’ , ‘The Zone’ and ‘Atkins’ low carbohydrate-type diets have protein as a big focus with meat typically starring in the main attraction and an easy ‘go-to’ food for that way of eating.
These types of diets may be a growing concern for long-term health, including increasing risks of cancers and heart disease.
Globally, there are about one million cancer deaths per year due to tobacco smoking, 600,000 annually due to alcohol consumption, and more than 200,000 per year due to air pollution. According to the most recent estimates by the Global Burden of Disease Project, about 34,000 cancer deaths per year are attributable to diets high in processed meat. Estimates that 50,000 cancer deaths may be linked to eating red meat.
Every 50 gram portion of processed meat can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.
Knowing some of the ‘environmental’ culprits in our society can help raise awareness to reduce the risk.
The longer the meat stays in the bowel, the more chance of harmful chemicals developing. Increasing plant-based foods and fibre level of diet can help body get rid of the waste quickly. This demonstrates why ‘low carb’ eating may not be in the bowel’s best interest and affect the rate of digestion for meat-focused eaters.
A way to improve digestion and help prevent the degree of harmful chemicals in the gut include eating cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts in a meal with meat, which will help the body mop up the carcinogens and counteract the damage that can be done in the intestine.
In addition, vegetables and fruits have other beneficial vitamins, such as vitamin C, and phytochemicals, such as lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene that act as anti-oxidants to help counteract the damage in the bowel. Including plenty of plant-based foods, in addition to whole grains will offer the body fibre to help push waste through system in a more rapid fashion.
Food and eating is not just about nutrition, but is for celebration, cultural traditions, social gatherings and taste. People don’t eat candy for good health and nourishment, but more for pleasure. Use this analogy and consider processed meats a treat. They can be eaten rarely on a special occasion, but shouldn’t be on your grocery list every week.
Whereas, if you do eat meat, two servings of lean cuts of red meat per week are considered moderate and reasonable for health. Choose fish, eggs, poultry, beans/legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds more often. Aiming to eat a vegetarian-type meal once a week helps to adjust habits that can improve long-term health in a sustainable way.