Unless you have been living in a cave, you must heard or seen headlines of “Red meat is as carcinogenic as smoking”. What just happened? Are journalists and reporters taking crazy pills or do they have a point this time?
To understand this topic, you must have some background information on the science of red meat its epidemiology and metabolites. This is a quick primer. However, note that being labeled as a carcinogen is quite common. The real impact depends on your dosage and also what comprises the rest of your diet.
“The link between cancer and red meat is more complex than many articles suggest. It will take you a couple of minutes to get a full understanding of the issues involved”.
What is classified as Red Meat?
First and foremost, it is important to understand what red meat really is if you are interested in comprehending the link. No matter what the media says, pork is not white meat! Any kind of meat from mammals like pigs is usually red when raw due to high levels of hemoglobin; therefore, the USDA and many other researchers consider pork to be red meat due to its color when raw. Generally, red meat is meat that is red in color when raw and darkens when cooked.
So, what about white meat? Well, just like its name, white meat is white in color when raw and remains the same when cooked. Although chicken and fish fall under this category, they are very different when it comes to nutritional content. But is there something in red meat that could potentially cause cancer? Well, we are going to delve into that in a moment.
Does it really cause cancer? What does research say and can it be trusted?
After the release of the World Health Organization findings on the links between cancer and red meat, there has been a lot of confusing coverage and misinformation on this topic. The findings by the WHO aren’t new. Nevertheless, the vastness of their research has elicited a media frenzy. Due to this, people aren’t sure of where they stand. Are they supposed to strike off red meat from their shopping lists altogether?
Anyway, is red meat linked to causing cancer? The answer is possibly yes though scientifically we are not yet sure if it does.
Stop the Food Fear Mongering
After the statement by the WHO, several experts have come out to voice their doubts against the information used by the researchers. For instance, British nutritionist Zoe Harcombe in an article published in The Australian claims that the information used by the World Health Organization is completely unreliable. “Overall, this information was scaremongering and disgraceful”, she notes .
Dr. Gordon Guyatt, a medical professor at the Hamilton’s McMaster University says that the World Health Organization had been angling for a huge headline. “Their inferences went beyond what can be considered appropriate”, he notes .
Instead of the WHO directly linking red meat to cancer, they would have used a more appropriate statement like “Low-quality evidence suggests that intake of these meats may cause cancer.”
In the recent past, several governmental health advice has turned out be negative since they were under researched or based on very low quality research. For instance, we are aware that public health had it wrong all through on cholesterol and fat. These same people are going against sugars, salt and now meat.
In fact, it’s no surprise that people more often than not get confused whenever the government issues advice based on unsound scientific research. Unfounded scare mongering tactics will cause more harm than good. Instead of wasting money demonizing one nutrient or food, diet advice should be based on the totality of scientific research and available evidence. This way, the public can get real dietary advice that can also be achieved.
Are there any nutritional benefits from eating red meat?
You thought there was no reason to take red meat? Think twice! Red meat is rich in iron which many women and teenage girls lack in their child bearing age. Iron from red meat is easily absorbed in the body.
Red meat is also an adequate supplier of Vitamin B12 which is responsible for making DNA and also keeping nerves and blood cells healthy. It is also rich in zinc which ensures that the immune is working properly[4,5]
As a matter of fact, red meat is a rich source of protein which is a key component when it comes to building muscles and bones.
“Call a spoon a spoon and not a big spoon. Red meat is one of the most nutritious foods ever for human beings”, says Shalene McNeil, PhD, and also an executive director of research and nutrition at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. A single ounce of lean red meat will contribute just 180 calories but then give you more than 10 essential nutrients.[6,7]
Does red meat scare you? Try these alternatives
Scientifically and medically speaking, red meat is not the only way to obtain iron and other nutrients mentioned above. There are other animal based sources of iron and zinc such as fish, chicken and eggs. What about if you are a vegetarian or you just want to avoid animal products? Well, you should try adding plant based iron sources.
For instance, you could try cereals such as legumes (peas, baked beans lentils), wheat germ, whole grain bread, seeds and nuts. Green and leafy vegetables such as kales, spinach and apricots will perform a perfect job. All of these are iron fortified products available in most supermarkets and health food stores.
By consuming foods rich in vitamin C you will also greatly increase the absorption of iron from vegetables such as spinach lettuce and kales. You could also try eating baked beans with orange juice and eggs toast or even combine vegetables, tomato sauce with whole grain pasta.
If your iron levels are low, it is strongly recommended that you take a high quality iron supplement on a daily basis at the same time including a diet rich iron.