Is it Time to Cut Back on Red Meat?
Do you include red meat in your diet? If you do, you are in the majority. About 97 percent of Americans eat meat, with an average weekly intake of about 3-4 lbs or a whopping 193 pounds of beef, pork and chicken a year!
Even if you avoid processed red meat, such as ham, bacon, sausages and burgers, in light of the World Health Organization’s recent report on the carcinogenicity of meat, you might wonder whether you should be eating red meat at all.
While the WHO report classed processed meat as “cancer-causing,” unprocessed red meat is now labeled as “probably causing cancer.” The link between red meat and cancer is strongest for colon cancer, but there is also an association with tumors in the pancreas and prostate.
The news that red meat is potentially cancer-causing is not what you want to hear if you enjoy steak, ribs or chops. However, is it necessary to give up red meat altogether?
Red Meat is Healthful
Thankfully, you don’t need to avoid beef, lamb and pork. Including red meat as part of a balanced diet offers a range of health benefits, as it is rich in a number of key nutrients. Meat provides an easily absorbed form of iron, which can reduce your risk of anemia. Beef is also one of the richest sources of zinc, which your body needs to help fight infections and aid wound healing. Additionally, red meat is a good source of the vitamin B12 your body uses to produce DNA and red blood cells, as well as support your nervous system.
It is also good to know that lean beef and pork are as low in fat as poultry, which makes red meat compatible with a diet aimed at controlling your weight and cholesterol level.
Moderate your Intake and Cook Wisely
While lean red meat is a healthy addition to your diet, you may wish to consider the amount you eat and the way you cook it. Keeping your red meat intake below 100 g per day is recommended, as the analysis by the WHO showed that your risk of colon cancer increases by 17 percent for each 100 g of red meat you eat daily. If your diet is red- meat-heavy, alternative protein sources, such as poultry, fish, pulses and soy products, can help you to bring your meat consumption in line with recommendations.
Even if you keep your red meat intake in check, you should avoid cooking your meat at very high temperatures, particularly if your meat is cooked directly on a hot surface or in the flame, as is the case with pan frying or grilling. Braising, stewing, boiling or pressure cooking your meat are all healthier cooking methods if you want to reduce your exposure to cancer-causing agents. However, as these alternatives are not suitable for all cuts of meat, you can take other steps to reduce your intake of carcinogens. Regularly turning your steak or chops during cooking can reduce production of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which are carcinogenic. Avoiding well- done and charred meat can further reduce your intake of HCAs and PAHs.
As you can see, red meat can still feature regularly in your diet. Just remember to moderate your portions and limit cooking methods that generate carcinogens, so you can take advantage of the health benefits of red meat while reducing the potential risk of cancer.