We have discussed this red meat-cancer link in this column a few years back, but recent studies have sparked new interest on this medical controversy, and confirmed fundamental findings which might be of interest to you. After all, everyone wants to be as healthy as possible and live as long as our telomeres would maximally allow.
What are telomeres?
Telomeres are the protective caps at each end of our DNA. They shorten with age and could also be affected by good or bad lifestyle. Avoiding bad habits and bad diet (living a healthy lifestyle) will slower its shortening, therefore, maximizing life span.There are now on the market DNA tests that will track cellular age (telo-years) based on telomere length, for $129 per test.
But why test for the amount of “poison” in our system and spend that amount for a test when the better way is to stop taking in known “poisons” and simply live a healthy lifestyle thru exercise, diet, abstinence from tobacco, moderation in alcohol intake, and stress management with RRR (regular rest and relaxation).
As far as diet is concerned, red meat is on the spotlight again.
What’s with red meat?
Red meat (beef, pork, veal, lamb, mutton, goat, and other mammalian muscles), fresh or processed, are both suspected to increase the risk for cancer and other major illnesses. The processed ones are deemed worse. Some of the processed red meats are sausages, bacon, ham, patties, hamburgers, bologna, corned beef, salami, pepperoni, pastrami, most deli-meats, and canned meats.
How much red meat is consumed in the USA?
In the United States last year, it is estimated that one person consumed about 106.6 pounds of red meat. Over the years, the consumption of red meat has gone down from 145.8 pounds per individual in 1970 to almost 40 pounds less today. The past ten years alone saw the red meat eaten has gone down about 10 pounds per person. The lowest on record was in 2014, at just 101.7 per person. Indeed, red meat intake has dramatically fallen the past four decades because of widespread news of colorectal cancer and other forms of malignant tumors, and their link to consumption of red meat.
Why are so many eating less red meat?
Besides being more expensive than white meat and plant-based food items, the damaged reputation of red meat as being unhealthy for us and its link to increased cancer risk, and the warning being on the internet and all social media today, people around the world are becoming more educated and health conscious. Their desire to live healthier and longer is encouraging them to stay away from red meat and instead eat fish, legumes (the various types of beans and garbanzos) and/or chicken as sources of protein. For breakfast, many have switched to the old fashioned oat meal and some fruits, instead of high carb foods (like rice, bread, pancakes, waffles, soft drinks (liquid candy), etc.) and processed foods which are also high in saturated fat (bacon, sausage, ham.)
Is read meat really that bad?
The World Health organization in October 2015 highligted in a report that “when it comes to red meat intake, cancer is perhaps the most well-established health implication.” It concluded that red meat is "probably carcinogenic to humans," meaning that there is some evidence that it can increase the risk of cancer, a cancer-causing agent. It has been found that those who eat a lot of vegetables, legumes, fish daily (instead of red meats) are healthier and less prone to cancer. The Cancer Council recommends no more than 455 g of red meat a week, if any at all. Many abstain from red meat and opt for fish, vegetables, legumes, which are protective against many forms of cancer, like colorectal, stomach, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancers
What are processed meats?
The World Health Organization defined processed meat as "meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation," and as such is "carcinogenic to humans." There is sufficient evidence today that processed meat intake increases cancer risk.
What in red meat is cancer-causing?
Studies have shown that two groups of toxic agents (cancer-causing), Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclice aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when muscle meat (beef, pork, poultry and fish) is cooked at high temperature, like pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. HCAs and PAHs are known to damage DNA and suspected to increase the risk for cancer formation. The World Health Organization says ”that each 50-gram portion of processed meat - which primarily includes pork or beef - consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.” The burned (charcoal black) portions of fried or grilled meats are toxic.
How did WHO come to that conclusion?
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed more than 800 independent studies analyzing the effects of red meat and processed meats on the different types of cancers. The evidence uncovered reveled that those who ate red meat had increased risk for colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. There are ongoing studies about the role of HCAs and PAHs in human cancer risk.
Why the shift to plant-based foods?
There are approximately 8 million adults in the United States who are vegetarians or vegans for animal welfare, the 2016 Harris Polls reported. But there are millions more who are switching from red meat to plant-based diet because it is healthful. A position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in December 2016 suggested that “a plant-based diet can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 62 percent, as well as reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.” Actually, what entice people is not only the health benefits of consuming plant-based foods but the significant link of eating red meat and cancer.
What are the options?
As we grow older, health becomes more significant and a priority. The adage “Health is Wealth” is most valid and true. Just ask those millionaires or billionaires who are going blind from a disease with no cure, or who are dying from cancer, or losing their mind from Alzheimer’s. They would give up their material wealth in an instant just to regain their health.
We have options. Since we do not know if our genes (DNA) can tolerate and survive regular red meat consumption without developing cancer and major cardiovascular illnesses, it behooves us to enjoy a diet of fish, vegetables, legumes, and nuts daily and stay away from, or significantly reduce, our red meat intake, in view of the scientific evidence before us. Or, we can continue our red meat diet and accept the consequences of killer diseases and of premature death. Like anything in life, it is a matter of choice.