According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), processed meat is tagged as a carcinogen. With such classification, processed meat and cancer are now highly associated with one another. Clearly, there’s more to know about this relevant topic. So, we’ve gathered some pertinent information about the correlation of meat with cancer. But before we go into details, let’s first distinguish processed meat from red meat.
The key difference between processed meat and red meat
Processed meats are those foods that undergo various methods, either to enhance the flavor or extend its shelf life. These processes range from curing, smoking, salting, to fermenting. Some of the most popular processed meats include ham, bacon, hotdogs, sausage, and deli meats. On the other hand, the red meat is the raw meat from mammals such as goat, lamb, beef, and pork.
The impact of processed meat and red meat
Experts from different countries showed that eating processed meat daily can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Moreover, there have been pieces of evidence that red meat can also cause the growth of cancer cells in the pancreas and prostate glands. Though there has been several scientific evidence of the connection between processed meat and cancer, further studies are still required to make it certain.
To have a clearer grasp of relationship between meat and cancer, you should know the Group 1 carcinogen. This includes ham, bacon, hotdog, and salami. These foods have been classified as possible causes of cancer, along with pork, lamb, and beef. Below is a sample composition of red meat for your better understanding.
Haem, a chemical found in red meat, is disintegrated into pieces by the digestive system. From there, N-nitroso chemicals are created, which are considered harmful to the cells that track the bowel. Hence, regular eating of red meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer. The same goes when processed meat is broken down. The harmful chemicals N-nitroso are formed from the nitrate and nitrite preservatives added into the meat. Consequently, these destructive chemicals add up, leading to cancer. And if you think that’s all processed meat contains, you got it all wrong. They also encompass a high amount of salt, which is harmful to the body. More than that, processed meat comes with a higher fat content that attributes to the increase of carcinogenesis. This results from the synthesis of secondary bile acids.
The added harm of charred meat and barbecues
There have been a lot of researches that show how burnt meat further increases the risk of cancer. It’s because of the chemical compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are formed when cooking meat at a very high-temperature level. And when it is cooked over an open flame, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are produced.
In many animal studies, these substances are labelled as carcinogenic or also known as cancer-causing elements. Therefore, if you regularly eat barbecues or charred meat, you are technically doubling the possibility of cancer diseases. You acquire several harmful chemicals from nitrite to HCAs and PAHs, which are possible human carcinogens. And even if few human data are supporting such a hypothesis, it’s better safe than sorry.
Everything in moderation
Too much of everything is not good. For instance, lean red meat is a great source of protein, zinc, and iron. This means that you don’t necessarily have to entirely cut out red meat from your food regime. You just have to limit your intake so you reduce the risk of cancer. Occasionally, you can indulge in your favorite burger or feast your appetite with some strips of bacon. Just make sure not to consume these on a regular basis.
Furthermore, the American Cancer Society reminds the general public to eat more vegetables and fruits. And instead of processed meat and red meat, you can substitute these with fish, beans, and poultry. Or, you can alternate them accordingly to have a balanced diet. In addition, you also limit fast food meals and confectionery treats. It’s because eating meat together with sweets becomes a lethal combo in the long run. So, you might want to reconsider your choices now.
A guide to better meat consumption
There’s no better way to avoid cancer than keeping your body healthy. So, here are some significant guidelines that you can follow through and incorporate into your daily routine. It may be challenging at first but don’t give up. Good things wait for those who prioritize their health above all.
Recommended red meat consumption
With the above information, you might be wondering how much meat you should eat. According to the Cancer Council, it is highly recommended that your cooked red meat intake must not be over 455g per week. This amount equates to 700g raw meat. On a daily basis, your cooked meat consumption should only be around 65g. To better understand the guideline, here are some sample meal computations to help you.
One serve of red meat corresponds to around 65g cooked or 90 to 100g raw. This amount is equivalent to 2 slices roast meat, ½ cup minced, or 2 small chops. If you’re looking for substitutes for one serve of meat, there are a lot of choices.
115g raw fish or 100g cooked fish or 1 small can of fish
100g raw or 80g cooked turkey or chicken
1 cup cooked peas, lentils, or beans
170g tempeh or tofu
2 large eggs
Cooking and preparation
Incorporate some healthy meal ideas into your dishes. These include using more legumes and vegetables such as celery, peas, carrot, and mushrooms. You can substitute your processed meat with chicken and fish. Or, you can opt for a vegetable-based dish. And don’t forget to add some organic spices into your meal, including herbs, chili, garlic, paprika, and oregano.
On top of this, make sure not to overcook your red meat. Avoid charred meat by marinating it properly. Marinating not just decreases potential carcinogens but it also makes the meat more tender and flavorful. Additionally, you can opt for gentler cooking methods instead of high-temperature grilling. Boiling, microwave heating, and casseroling are some of the recommended cooking ways to make the meat healthier.
Another thing to consider is when shopping for red meat and processed meat. Since you already know that nitrates or nitrites are harmful to your body, then you should avoid products with these chemicals. Generally, these chemicals follow the additives or E numbers 249, 250, 251, and 252. Checking the label beforehand won’t take too much of your time. So, spend at least a minute to read the ingredients properly. Don’t worry because avoiding foods with these additives pays off in the long run. You might think it’s just a waste of time but actually, you are doing yourself a great favor.
When picking meat, avoid those fatty ones and choose lean cuts. To give you an idea of pork meat parts with extra lean, these include tenderloin, sirloin chop, sirloin roast, loin roast, porterhouse chop. And if you are shopping for meat or some processed products, don’t forget to add plant-based foods to your cart too! Balance your grocery and shop some leafy and root vegetables, as well as some fruits. Prioritize those that are rich in vitamin C such as oranges, berries, kiwi, and watermelon. Whole grain cereals are also a great substitute for processed foods and unhealthy sweets.
One-day no meat challenge
If you’re pumped up to stay healthy, challenge yourself for a meat-free day at least once a week. Pick a day in a week and focus on healthier options. Prepare a meal using the above-mentioned red meat substitutes and add some vegetables and fruits into your meal. This challenge is very beneficial to those who are planning to give up meat on a permanent basis. It’s also a good start if you’re eyeing to switch to a vegan diet or you simply want to have a healthier lifestyle. Whatever your choices, you are definitely making the right decision. And of course, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Start slowly and eventually this challenge will be part of your routine.
Other relevant things to take into account
Aside from limiting your red and processed meat intake, you also have to avoid tobacco. If processed meat and red meat have N-nitroso chemicals, tobacco comes with a lot more harmful chemicals. These include nicotine, lead, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, and other radioactive elements. Likewise, you also have to reduce your alcohol consumption because this also triggers the growth of cancerous cells. Excessive drinking of alcohol can contribute to different cancers in the mouth, larynx, colon, liver, and breast (women).
~ Conclusion ~
Now that you know the linkage between processed meat and cancer, we hope that this will serve as an eye-opener for you. Keeping your body healthy should be your number one priority. In fact, it’s something that you should give the utmost significance. As cliché as it may sound, your health is your wealth. You can’t just disregard your food consumption or your physical routine. It’s a must to lessen your meat intake to avoid cancer as much as possible.
Written for and published by 4-in Lanyards