Im sure you have heard the new studies on red meat by now. We all should know the dangers of read meat by now but here is some evidence if to prove it.
‘Red’ meat is (as you might expect), any meat that’s a dark red colour before it’s cooked – this obviously means meats like beef and lamb, but also includes pork. ‘Processed’ meat is meat that’s not sold fresh, but instead has been cured, salted, smoked, or otherwise preserved in some way (so things like bacon, sausages, hot dogs, ham, salami, and pepperoni). But this doesn’t include fresh burgers or mince.
Both of these types of meat are distinct from ‘white’ meats, like fresh chicken or turkey, and fish (neither of which appear to increase your risk of cancer but still contain added chemicals, hormones etc).
The evidence so far…There’s now a large body of evidence that bowel cancer is more common among people who eat the most red and processed meat. There’s also growing evidence for a possible link to both stomach and pancreatic cancers, but this seems to be less clear cut than the link to bowel cancer.
The most convincing overview of the evidence of a link to bowel cancer comes from a 2011 analysis by researchers at the WCRF, who combined the results of a number of previous studies, to try to get a clear sense of the overall picture.
Out of every 1000 people, about 61 will develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives. Those who eat the lowest amount of processed meat are likely to have a lower lifetime risk than the rest of the population (about 56 cases per 1000 low meat-eaters).
How does red and processed meat cause cancer?Researchers are still trying to pin down exactly how red and processed meat cause cells to become cancerous, but the main culprits seem to be certain chemicals found in the meat itself.
In red meat, the problems seem to start when a chemical called haem – part of the red pigment in the blood, haemoglobin – is broken down in our gut to from a family of chemicals called N-nitroso compounds. These have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel, so other cells in the bowel lining have to replicate more in order to heal. And it’s this ‘extra’ replication that can increase the chance of errors developing in the cells’ DNA – the first step on the road to cancer.
On top of this, processed red meats contain chemicals that generate N-nitroso compounds in the gut, such as nitrite preservatives.
Cooking meat at high temperatures, such as grilling or barbequing, can also create chemicals in the meat that may increase the risk of cancer. These chemicals are generally produced in higher levels in red and processed meat compared to other meats.
So despite what you may hear, it isn’t about the quality of the meat, or whether it’s from the local butcher or your supermarket. The evidence so far suggests that it’s probably the processing of the meat, or chemicals naturally present within it, that increases cancer risk.
Our advice on this is to eat plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables; cut back (or stop) on red and processed meat, and salt; and limit your alcohol intake.
So what do you tihnk now? would you become a vegetarian after hearing this study? Or would you lessen the amount of meat you consume weekly? We would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.