10 Things to know about meat and cancer

  1. Meat has been associated with causation of cancer – Many studies over the years have been done that show a link between meat and cancer. Many of the studies were carried out in the 1990s but, as late as 2013, studies have been published on the causative relationship between meat and cancer.  But, before you quit eating meat altogether, read on to learn a few more truths about this relationship.
  2. Red meat is more associated with cancer than white meat – Generally, meat from mammals is considered red meat and this includes cows, goats and sheep. On the other hand white meat usually means chicken, fish and rabbit. Studies targeting the colon shows that red meat has more effect on cell’s DNA increasing the risk of cancer. White meat did not seem to have appreciable effect on the colon and fish was actually shown to be protective to the colon.
  3. Colon cancer is the most recognized cancer to be associated with red meat – Numerous studies have been done and the evidence is almost irrefutable. Meat consumed goes through the gastrointestinal system and scientists have been able to study their effect on the cells of this system by studying stool samples.
  4. Other cancers associated with red meat – Other cancers have also been variably linked with red meat and the reasons are as varied. These include breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer and endometrial cancer.
  5. Quantity of meat consumed is important – the more meat one consumes, the higher the risk of cancer. Many studies suggest that this is because meat is a protein and thus is eventually converted to ammonium which is a known risk factor for cancer development.
  6. Fatty meat Vs Lean meat – The fat in meat when consumed is converted to cholesterol. Cholesterol is the building block for hormones and this includes estrogen.  Exposure to high levels of estrogen is known to be a risk factor for hormone dependent cancers like breast and pancreatic cancers.
  7. Cooking temperature is important – charred (blackened) meat is more associated with cancer stimulating compounds. Thus, meat that is roasted/grilled or deep-fried in very hot oil and allowed to blacken is more harmful than meat that is lightly cooked by stewing, boiling or poaching. The assumption is that eating “rare” meat is better than eating meat that is “well done.” But, do bear in mind that the source of your meat should be very clean as less cooked meat can infect you with worms as well as bacteria like Salmonella that causes typhoid – a very severe illness.
  8. Preserved meats have more risk than freshly slaughtered meat –  This includes meats that come in cans or papers and have added preservatives so that they can last for a relatively long time. Studies suggest that the preservatives are the culprits as well the fact that the meat is aged.
  9. So should we give up meat? – That of course will be a personal decision but there are benefits to red meat that I will not fail to mention. Meats are a source of proteins which is the building block of all our cells and hence our bodies. In addition, red meat is rich in iron which is essential in preventing anaemia. A lot of vegetarians I come across have some degree of low hemoglobin. Meats are also rich in water-soluble vitamins like B12 , thiamine and niacin as well as minerals like zinc and phosphorous. These are essential for the human body and this means that if you give up meat, you must source for other sources of these nutrients.
  10. What then are the generally accepted guidelines to eating red meat when it comes to cancer prevention.
  • Do not eat more than 300 gm of meat in a week
  • Go for lean meats and trim off excess fat.
  • Do not char your meat
  • Minimize your consumption of preserved meats
  • Take adequate fruits, vegetables and fiber which are rich in anti-oxidants to help in repairs and mopping up free radicals that cause problems.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle as the body is geared up to protect itself from many of its daily challenges. Just don’t over-challenge it!

3 thoughts on “10 Things to know about meat and cancer

  1. Quite informative… How about roasted chicken or roasted white meat, is the risk different or same as boiled or fried white meat?

    1. Thank you Mwendwa. The risk from meat associated with cancer has been noted to be from red meat as compared to white meat. White meat has little effect and fish is actually protective especially for colon cancer. But, charring any meat or any food (allowing it to blacken) releases harmful components that are risk factors for cancer. Thus, do not char your food as you enjoy your roasted chicken…. Then it will be as safe as boiling or stewing it.

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