In 1986, researchers discovered cancer developing in rats that were fed compounds that are generated from overcooking meat under high heat. And since then, some studies of large populations have suggested a potential connection between meat and cancer. But, is there a direct cause-and-effect relationship between red meat consumption and cancer?
Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Chair of the Food Science Department at Iowa State University, and Dr. Wendy Dahl, PhD, RD, FDC, Assistant Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, University of Florida, have differing opinions.
Dr. MacDonald says concerns about red meat and cancer risk are not supported by research.
“Overwhelming data shows that colon cancer risk is not affected by consumption of modest amounts of red meat,” said MacDonald. “In fact, diets that contain modest amounts of red meat provide health benefits rather than risks.”
The benefits of red meat consumption, according to MacDonald, include a positive nutrient profile and an excellent source of high quality protein, B vitamins and trace minerals, especially iron and zinc.
Dr. Dahl, meanwhile, points to meta-analyses (where the results of many studies are combined and evaluated) that show meat intake increases cancer risk.
“For example, red and processed meat contribute to increased stomach cancer risk and processed meat increases esophageal cancer risk,” said Dahl. “Red meat intake is associated with colorectal cancer.”
Dr. MacDonald agrees that associations have been made between cured, smoke, or salted meats and increased cancer risks in populations where these foods are regularly consumed.
“Hence, moderation is recommended with consumption of these types of meat products,” said MacDonald. “Additionally, cooking meat at high temperatures (for example, grilling) can generate carcinogenic compounds in the meat.”
Some experts recommend trimming off burned or overcooked portions of meat before eating.
“The evidence for cancer prevention is associated with a vegetarian diet versus a ‘diet of vegetables’,” adds Dahl. “In addition to vegetables, vegetarian diets include fruit, nuts, grains and other very healthful foods.”
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, according to Dahl, recommend choosing lean meats and cutting down on processed meats.
“USDA’s MyPlate recommends half your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables and less than a quarter of your plate be proteins, such as meat,” said Dahl.
Remember to use the MyPlate guidelines when considering how much meat to consume.
Where does most of the protein you consume come from?