You’ve heard it a million times. Red meat = cancer. But is it really that simple? We think not. Read Should You Avoid Red Meat?
What is red meat? Seems like a simple enough question. It’s the cuts of meat that come from an animal such as a cow, pig or deer. Red meat can come in different forms such as beef, pork, veal, and more. It has been eaten in different cultures for thousands of years; basically, since the dawn of civilization, and into the prehistoric days of cavemen.
Before all the fuss about red meat being unhealthy, it was widely accepted that red meat was in fact a very good way to consume fat and protein. It wasn’t until sometime in the mid 20thcentury that scientists began to believe that eating red meat was potentially dangerous for your health.
They concluded that saturated fat is the culprit causing so many issues with heart disease. Shortly thereafter, red meat was blamed for various forms of cancer.
What Is The Truth?
It’s what everyone is trying to figure out. Several different researchers have linked red meat to colorectal cancer (1). Colorectal cancer is a very common form of the scary disease. Red meat itself cannot be linked directly to cancer. Instead, it is now widely believed that the cancer-causing variable may have to do with the way the meat is being prepared.
Red meat that is cooked to the point of becoming ‘charred’ or blackened in some parts may actually contain toxic byproducts which are created with high temperatures. They toxins are known as ‘carcinogens’; cancer causing compounds, dangerous to human health. This is why red meat itself is not pinpointed as the problem, but rather the way in which the meat is prepared you must be careful of.
The Science Isn’t Clear
Most studies on red meat show statistical data called ‘correlation’. Correlation is when a specific factor changes, it also changes another factor with it. It determines how closely linked the two variables are to one another, and may help draw new conclusions about the subject. The problem with correlation is that it can be misleading since so many different variables change the way the data in interpreted.
There are just too many factors to add into the equation to get a simple answer. In other words, simple observational studies that rely on correlation cannot be relied on alone to give accurate results. A controlled trial is also needed to come to precise conclusions, and it may in fact help you draw the exact opposite conclusion.
A good example of a controlled trial would be where you have two groups of people. Group 1 eats diet A, and group 2 eats diet B. Next, the two groups are observed to see how the different diets effect their health.
Some studies are showing that unprocessed red meat does not increase the occurrence of cancer or heart disease in healthy adults (2)(3). There are also plenty of studies that suggest the exact opposite.
Its extremely difficult to study how food effects your health in the long run; which is why you will always see differing opinions on the subject. Although the evidence seems to suggest that eating moderate portions of meat, less often is probably the best way to go.
We now know that cooking at hot temperatures, meat will store toxic byproducts in the burnt areas. The best practice is to gently cook your meats; and other foods using alternative methods such as steaming, or gently boiling.
Avoid eating charred meats, or just cut off the charred parts. You can flip your meat more often to help prevent the worst version of charring.
Bottom line is, eat red meat in moderation with a balanced diet that consists of whole foods. Going for a Mediterranean style diet is your best bet. That means going for more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains etc. This helps offset the meat you will be replacing in your diet.