This post may be controversial – like swearing in the church of low-carb.
Is it unsafe to eat meat? Despite the scare propaganda the answer seems to be no. Meat is a nutritious and great food that humans have always eaten.
Warnings in the media are usually based on extremely uncertain studies – statistics from food questionnaires, where people who eat more meat also smoke more, eat more junk food, exercise less and so forth. Even with this unfair comparison the differences between meat eaters and non-meat eaters are usually small – and sometimes they point in the opposite direction.
In Asia, for example a review of all studies has shown that Asian meat eaters are healthier than non-meat eaters. Asians with a vegetarian orientation seem to get more heart disease and more cancer.
In summary, meat seems to be generally healthy, nutritious and great food. But there’s one exception.
The exception, the area that deserves to be taken quite seriously – is the risk of colorectal cancer. For some reason studies repeatedly show that people who eat red – mainly processed – meat specifically get more colon cancer.
The increase in risk for colorectal cancer in people who eat a lot of meat is generally low, around 20%. This can be compared with a massive 1,000% increase of risk for lung cancer for smokers. But even if the increase in risk is small, it’s been shown so often and so consistently that it probably is real.
Two days ago another study was published showing a slightly smaller risk for colorectal cancer in vegetarians. Why does red (processed) meat seem to slightly increase the risk of colorectal cancer?
The Probable Cause
People who eat a lot of chicken or a lot of fish don’t seem to have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. There have been many attempts to explain why red meat is different, but probably the simplest explanation is closest to the truth. Heating. Excessive heat gives rise to many different new substances, some of which are potentially carcinogenic.
The best example is again smoking. It’s not the tobacco or the nicotine that increase the risk of cancer – it’s allowing the tobacco to burn and inhale all the new substances formed during combustion.
Similarly, we tend to cook red meat on high heat. Barbecuing is a good example. Inhaling the smoke can be harmful to the lungs. Eating charred meat may be harmful, where the strongly heat-treated meat is in prolonged contact with the body’s mucous membranes… And where’s that? Exactly, the colon and rectum.
What You Can Do
So what can you do? Some experts advise eating a lot less meat. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good choice. Moderation is often best. Meat is a nutritious and hearty food. To completely avoid it isn’t only boring for many, it also makes it harder to become full and satisfied.
The risk is that you eat more of other things, such as bad carbohydrates instead… with a long-term risk of weight gain, diabetes and thus all common cancer forms throughout the body. It’s like out of the frying pan and into the fire. From a minimal increase in risk of colorectal cancer to an increased risk of all cancers, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
It’s possible to eat healthily as a vegetarian or even a vegan – without refined carbs – but it’s harder. It requires more knowledge and determination.
An easier and tastier way could be to prepare meat with some caution. Avoid making it well-done, avoid eating charred, blackened parts. Trim them away. Prepare the meat rare or medium instead. Or choose chicken and seafood more often.
Finally, it’s wise to fry meat in stable fats like butter, coconut oil or lard. When cooking with high heat avoid like the plague polyunsaturated fats like sunflower oil, corn oil, rapeseed oil or margarines. These unstable polyunsaturated fats can’t withstand heat without lots of potentially toxic substances being formed.
The old fear of natural saturated fats could be the cause of not only an obesity and diabetes epidemic, but also an enormous amount of unnecessary cancer-causing substances from heated vegetable oils.
Charred, dry meat fried overdone in vegetable oils or margarine is hardly good, and it doesn’t seem to be healthful for the bowel either. Try to choose better and healthier ways to cook red meat, when you want to eat it.
Also remember to keep in perspective the size of different risks. This is a small health risk, and trying too hard to avoid it can easily expose you to worse risks.
What do you think about it? Leave a comment below.
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