The Beef on Red Meat
Will it really boost your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes?
A study that tracked over a half million Americans found that those who reported eating the most red meat were about 30 percent more likely to die of cancer or heart disease than those who ate the least amount of red meat.
On the upside, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to be healthy. Just switch from eating red meat a couple of times per day to once or twice per week to eliminate most of the risk.
People who ate the equivalent of one and a half quarter pounders per week had the least risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The meat-lovers in the study ate an average of ten quarter pounders per week, and their risk of dying was the highest.
Researchers made an effort to control for other differences, like drinking habits, weight, education, smoking, vitamin use, fruit consumption, etc. They could have missed something, but this was the biggest study to look at meat and mortality.
Red meat contains the highest amount of saturated fat and cholesterol. So it’s no surprise it’s not so great for your ticker. Leaner cuts of meat such as sirloin, filet mignon, and pork tenderloin still have a significant amount of saturated fats. Unfortunately, you can’t trim the fat off of hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, or bacon. Meat is the largest source of saturated fats in the average American diet.
Many studies have shown how replacing meat with chicken and fish can be very advantageous. They are lower in saturated fat and fish contain health omega-3 oils that can lower the risk of heart attack. Better still for your heart, is to add in nuts, beans, soy, and other plant proteins that are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The unsaturated fats in nuts act to lower cholesterol while still providing good quality protein.
Swedish researchers have pointed to red meat consumption as an increased risk factor for colorectal cancer time and time again. Malignant tumors in the colon and rectum can be explained by two main causes:
N-nitroso compounds:These have long been known to cause cancer, and the meat industry tried to get rid of them by avoiding adding nitrates to meat and adding Vitamin C instead. Unfortunately, these compounds are still produced in the gut when nitrites from water, vegetables, or processed meats bind with the proteins in meat. Interestingly, when white meat or vegetarian proteins were consumed, there was no increase in those harmful N-nitroso compounds.
Meat mutagens: Another reason colorectal cancer is so high in red meat eaters may be from instances where cooking meat at high temperatures, such a grilling or frying, creates a couple of types of mutagens, HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. A mutagen is simply a compound that leads to changes in DNA, which can lead to cancer. The body considers them foreign substances, goes to a lot of effort to expel them.
A good rule of thumb to follow in order to avoid manufacturing these meat mutagens is to marinate your meats, cook them at lower temperatures or in the microwave, and avoid browning or smoking the meat, as this is an indicator that more heterocyclic amines may have formed on the surface.
Red meat consumption has also been linked specifically to prostate cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer, as well as diabetes. The bottom line is that it’s a good idea to cut back on red and processed meats, and aim for about a serving a week. Instead, choose poultry, fish, beans, nuts, and soy-based proteins. Make sure when buying deli meat that it is free of nitrites. Try products like veggie burgers when you miss your meat.