Almost a year and a half ago (October, 2015), the World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled processed meats – such as bacon, sausages and hot dogs as ‘carcinogenic’ and therefore cancer causing. This puts processed meats in a group 1 list, which already includes tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes – Yikes! In addition, WHO added that red meats including beef, pork, veal and lamb are “probably carcinogenic”.
The announcement wasn’t a total surprise. For years, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has been recommending that individuals reduce the amount of red meats in their diets and to avoid processed meats. Indeed, there is a lot research showing a connection between red and manufactured meats, linked to various types of cancer. A massive study in BMC Medicine for example, linked processed meat consumption not just with cancer but also early death – “A diet rich in processed meat is energy-rich and nutrient poor, and is associated with the development of the disabilities and diseases of modern civilisation. This includes cancer but also obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases and many other conditions associated with continuous chronic low level inflammation.
How processed meats increase risk of cancer is still being studied, but four major factors have been identified;
1) Preservatives used such as nitrites and nitrates
2) Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons - A toxic substance formed by smoking meats
3) Heterocyclic amines - Formed by cooking meat at a high heat (shown to damage DNA)
4) The heme iron found in red meat, which can damage the lining of the colon
NOW, before a room full of vegetarians all applaud and shake hands…
First, this does not mean that all carcinogens are equally dangerous, it’s important to note that even things like aloe Vera is on the list of possible carcinogens.
Second, these findings need to be taken with a heavy grain of salt. At the other end of the spectrum, there have been some equally worrying findings regarding vegetarian/vegan diets. Various studies, including one that was carried out in Austria, found that adults who consumed a solely vegetarian diet (compared with other dietary habits) were actually, "less healthy, had a lower quality of life and required more medical treatment". They found that vegetarians were significantly more likely to suffer from mental health ailments such as; anxiety, depression, decreased social relationships and negative environmental factors. They were also more likely to suffer from allergies and other types of cancer.
The point? Scientific evidence shows that cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods and a balanced diet with healthy lifestyle choices are essential to good health. It’s also important to put all new findings and new classifications in context.
I genuinely believe WHO are on the right track when classing processed meats as carcinogenic. I am not so convinced when it comes to their labeling of other red meats. Plenty of research points to the benefits of red meat consumption; the high biological-value proteins and important micro-nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and zinc. People also need to consider any off-setting benefits such as the nutritional value meat delivers or the implications of drastically reducing or removing meat from the diet altogether. Good quality, free range meat contains Vitamin B12, CoQ10, Creatine, Carnosine, Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin D3 (all of which are found exclusively in animal sources).
What Is Healthy Meat?
In New Zealand we are lucky, nearly all of our cows are grass-fed as opposed to grain (like much of the USA). There are two steps I recommend when it comes to choosing your meat.
1. Avoid Processed Meat
Meat in general gets blamed for causing bowel cancer. I believe it is processed meat, a lack of green leafy vegetables, poor digestion, lack of chewing, over-consumption of refined carbohydrates and vitamin, mineral and antioxidant deficiencies which leads to increased cancer risk. Many processed meats use a raft of corn and soy fillers, chemical preservatives, anti-foaming agents, sugar, hydrolysed vegetable oils, meatglue and in some cases, colour and flavour. Ontop of that, a review of more than 7,000 clinical studies examining the connection between diet and cancer came to a stark conclusion: No one should eat processed meats.
2. Choose Nutrient Dense Meat
Due to modern intensive agricultural farming, nutrient levels in the soil and in the food we grow have been stripped. We should choose growers who nurture the soil ecology, that promote and follow organic and free range practices and also those growers that recognise overuse of chemicals can damage the soil ecology (and are dangerous to human health).
Fortunately, there are farmers who are growing more nutrient dense foods and you can even get this kind of food delivered direct to your home or office. Green Meadows Beef, is an example of good quality grass-fed beef that you can get delivered anywhere in NZ with free deliveries over $90! Visit them here at http://www.greenmeadowsbeef.co.nz/
(If you know any other good suppliers please comment and link them in the description!)
Remember, everyone is at different stages of their health journey and our knowledge of foods and diets are constantly changing. I would urge readers not to think of red meats (on their own) as carcinogenic. After all, the Inuit people had a traditional diet loaded with blubbery meat and there are good records showing colon cancer did not exist in that population. It is my belief that a daily serving of beef, lamb or pork, served with a rainbow of veg, will actually protect you against intestinal cancers and I strongly encourage everyone to add more vegetables into their diet as well as healthy red meat.