In The News: Red Meat, Processed Meat And The Cancer Connection


Published: October 27, 2015

Healthy Eating

If you have been following the media this week, you’ve probably heard that the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a document classifying processed red meat as a Group 1 carcinogenic- a cancer causing agent in the same category as tobacco, arsenic and asbestos. The same report listed red meat in Group 2- a probable cause of cancer. What does this mean to you?

Red Meat? Processed Meat?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the branch of the WHO that published the research defines red meat as “all mammalian muscle meat” such as beef, pork, lamb, mutton and goat. (Yes folks, goat is a red meat.). The agency goes on to define processed meat as “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermenting, smoking or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.” Many of these foods contain red meat and animal products. Popular processed meats include hot dogs, sausages, bacon, pastrami, canned meat and smoked meats.

Bottom Line

The good news is that you do not have to entirely give up meat. In addition to providing valuable protein, it too has its place in a healthy diet. Rather, reduce your portions and decrease the number of times processed meats and red meat make it to your plate. Follow these basic tips to reduce your personal risk.

1. Eat less meat: If meat is a regular feature on your plate, replace it with hearty legumes, nuts, seeds, seafood and poultry. Set yourself for success by starting where you are. If you eat meat seven times a week, start by cutting it down to six times and decrease it gradually.

2. Watch the cooking methods: Some cooking methods that employ high heat have been linked to cancer. This is especially true with grilled meats. Reduce your risk by following these simple tips.

3. Watch the portion: There is no reason for meat to play a prominent role on each plate. Right size your portions by making sure that meat does not cover more than ¼ of your plate. Use the Plate Method to guide you.

4. Add more veggies and fruits: Fruits and vegetables are one of the most underrated ways to prevent cancer. Not only do they contain healthy, disease busting anti-oxidants, they also are an excellent source of fiber, a nutrient sometimes referred to as nature’s broom because it literally sweeps out unhealthy substances in our bodies. However, that rather small tablespoon of greens you add to your plate and occasional fruit you snack on will not cut it. A serving should generally be about ½ cup or the size of your fist. Sweep your body clean by adding at least 5 colorful fruits and veggies to your plate a day.

5. Go Meatless: Want to step up the ante to reducing red and processed meats? Go meatless at least once a week. Join the Meatless Monday Movement and skip any kind of animal flesh on Monday. Can’t skip Monday meat? Choose any day of the week that works for you.

RELATED: Can You Convince An African To Give Up Meat for A Day?

6. Enjoy Heritage Foods: When it comes to health, there is no better diet than that of our ancestors. The did not eat highly processed foods and they used meat in rather small amounts, mainly as a seasoning for vegetable stews. I am certain if our forefathers saw some of the foods on our tables, they would be amazed at the poor quality of our overall intakes.

Here’s to your health!

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About Cordialis Msora-Kasago

Cordialis Msora-Kasago is a Registered Dietitian (R.D) and a pioneer in the discussion of modern day healthy lifestyles in Africa. She is the founder of The African Pot Nutrition - an organization that improves the health of African people through sustainable diet and lifestyle programs. Follow her on twitter @africadietitian.

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