Meat Causes Cancer – The Counter Argument.

Meat Causes Cancer – The Counter Argument.
  • Dr. Taylor Wallace
  • October 26, 2015

As you may have already heard, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) today released its summary evaluation on red meat and processed meat in The Lancet Oncology (link), stating:

Processed meat is “carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.Red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans, based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.”

I think it’s important to understand the research on this topic and how to translate these findings into your individual diet.

Point one – very few individual components of the diet (e.g. red meat) actually cause cancer. Poor diet patterns are what increase the risk of any chronic disease. If you’re eating a hot dog or cheeseburger for lunch every day, then the risk of obesity and many related chronic conditions such as cancer is likely high. On the other hand, consuming a serving of lean red meat once or twice a week is likely to be harmless to health. It’s all about moderation.

Point two – there is no widely accepted definition of “processed.” Most of you probably do not slaughter your own cows; therefore any type of meat you consume is “processed.” Be glad your meat is processed. Food borne illness and death from meat products is very common in underdeveloped nations. Since there is no formal definition of “processed” recognized in the U.S., this caveat alone creates a hindrance to giving broad dietary guidance. Consumers should pay close attention to the amount of saturated fat and total calories in the meats they are consuming (i.e. choose lean meats whether its chicken or beef).  Eating a foot long corndog at the county fair isn’t the same as a small grilled sirloin steak. The two shouldn’t be grouped together.

In regard to the scientific studies on red and processed meat and cancer, the data are relatively weak and are borderline no effect.  The majority of studies published to date are not statistically significant. I’m always timid when it comes to making broad public health recommendations before showing a clear “dose-response” pattern. For example, if eating one or two servings per week causes cancer… then common sense says that eating 4-5 servings should put you at an even greater risk. Studies on red meat and processed meat fail to consistently show this type of a relationship.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has a legal definition for lean meat. A piece of meat that’s 100 grams, for example, can have no more than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol to be called “lean.” This definition applies to all meat and poultry products.

Be a savvy consumer. Focus on your whole diet quality. Remember meats provide many essential nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12 and zinc to the diet.

4 thoughts on “Meat Causes Cancer – The Counter Argument.

  1. Hi Lorena,Most people think you must be sticrt when following a diet plan. However, it’s not always the case. I have a friend named Anna, she doesn’t diet at all but still keep a good shape. The biggest secret of diet is not diet at all. The most important thing is you need to avoid foods that contain bad fats to avoid.There is a very good video you should take a look. I’m sure you will change your thinking about diet after watching it.Hope you will have a nice weekend and be healthy.You can watch the video in the resource box

  2. My arguement on my facebook page recently. Red meat DOES NOT cause cancer! Processed meat may cause cancer, its only logical.

    Sausages, hot dog, burgers are NOT red meat!These are highly processed meat with lots of additives. If you base a research linking red meat and cancer on burgers and hot done, that research is flawed. These prosessed meats have up to 7 different additives to extend shelf live, give colour etc, many of which are carcinogenic.

  3. Best to avoid processed meats and follow a whole food diet. This can include meat, but best to know the source of the meat and try to ensure the animals are not eating processed foods themselves or receiving growth hormone injections, etc… We need to stop going around parading the notion that disease is simply the result of roll-the-dice genetics, all while dumping fast food and excessive amounts of junk into our bodies – that is nonsense. You may still be predisposed to certain types of disease, but YOU are able to make a significant difference in the quality of life if you are willing to eat right and exercise regularly. It’s the same adage as your family doctor would have told you a 70 years ago: not feeling well? Tell me about your diet…

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