So if you haven’t read the Time magazine article on the new report linking meat with cancer risk….here’s the highlights.
First of all, the Standard American diet has been nothing but unhealthy for quite some time. That is… heavy in red meat and processed meat. So this is actually not new news since the evidence has been growing for a while claiming these foods raise the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and yes…cancer. Welcome to the 3 most deadliest diseases in this country!
The World Health Organization (WHO) as of Oct 26, has identified processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen, the same category as cigarettes. Seems harsh…but yes, let’s get over it. Processed meat is defined as any meat that has been transformed to allow the meat to last longer and that enhances flavor by using techniques such as smoking, salting, curing, or any other process. These include hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, pepperoni, beef jerky, canned meat (Hello SPAM!), chicken nuggets, bologna, and packaged turkey.
Red meat, defined as mammalian muscle meat such as beef, veal, pork, lamb mutton and goat, fall into category Group 2a which are foods and substances that probably cause cancer. This is the same category that includes toxic pesticides such as DDT and malathion and the chemical weapon mustard gas.
Here are some fun facts:
There are about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide associated to diets high in processed meat. An estimated 50,000 deaths are attributable to red meat. In comparison, 1 million deaths are due to cigarette smoking.
Maybe we need to understand what happens during this processing that is so bad.
1. Most processed meat contains nitrates or nitrites, which are salts from either synthetic or natural sources that are added to meat to preserve it. That may sound like a good idea but these chemicals act with amines in the meat and form carcinogenic compounds that can damage DNA. So if you think you are playing it safe buying “nitrate free” products, such as hot dogs…think again. Some of these products add celery juice which is naturally high in nitrates. “Natural” nitrates or “synthetic” nitrates…who cares. Your body can’t tell the difference between them or the reactions they cause.
2. Pork unfortunately is no longer “the other white meat”. It is as processed as turkey bacon, smoked turkey deli meat, or any meat that’s grass-fed.
3. The heme molecule is found abundantly in red meat which transports iron in the body. The problem is that this type of iron is bonded with a metabolic molecule known as protoporphyrin. It tends to cause toxic reactions in the colon and has a direct effect on the cells in the large bowel that may contribute to cancer.
4. Meat cooked at high temperatures, whether fried, roasted or grilled produces more heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which are carcinogens and damage DNA. DNA damage is the origin of cancer! Pan-frying meat also makes it particularly susceptible to forming these carcinogenic compounds.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a subsidiary of WHO, did a meta-analysis evaluating 800 published papers. More than 20 experts from 10 countries conducted the work and then voted on the findings. So this is a legitimate robust report.
It wasn’t really clear exactly how much processed meat we can eat to keep our risks low, but the findings showed that 50 grams of processed meat per day-one hot dog or 6 pieces of bacon or 2 slices of ham-raises the risk of colon cancer by 18 percent. So eat less than 50 grams a day. Or better yet, less than 50 grams per WEEK. The study did not suggest for all to become vegans (although vegans may emphatically propose that we all should). It just implied to cut back and to at least watch how our meats are cooked.
This may at first seem a problem for all those Paleo people out there that relies on meat as their main protein source, Just remember that non-processed meats are available along with fish, eggs and plant protein sources (nuts, seeds, legumes). And the emphasis should still be on all those fruits and vegetables.
Just a reminder to be conscious about what you put into your body. So lots of things are bad for us, smoking, too much sun as well as processed foods…but ultimately its about taking the best, most unbiased information and making sense of it to make informed decisions.
Reference: Kluger,J. “The War on Delicious”. Time, November 9, 2015. pp.32-36.
Photo by stevendepoloPhoto by cookbookman17