Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Price for Red Meat

The National Cancer Institute recently released findings from the largest study ever linking meat consumption and mortality, which should convince even the most enthusiastic carnivores to cut back. The more red and processed meats consumed, the greater the risk of heart disease and cancer. Just by consuming 5 oz. /day (about 1 1/2 Big Macs/day) increases the risk by 30%. The strongest evidence is for colorectal cancer. What scientists call N-nitroso compounds can be carcinogenic. They appear to form in the digestive tract when heme iron (the type in red meat) and intestinal bacteria trigger meat protein to combine with the nitrites that are added to processed meats, AND/OR with the nitrites that the body makes from the naturally occurring nitrates in water and in some vegetables. And some people have bacteria that produce far more N-nitroso compounds than others. Such mutagens can also damage more than the gutt. Once the mutagens get into the blood, they can act at any site. Prostate cancer was increased by 40% in men who consumed one third of an ounce of well done red meat a day. Pancreatic cancer increases by 40-50% for men. A nine year study found a 38% increase in incidences of Type II diabetes in women who ate processed meat at least 5 times per week. It is believed that the nitrites may be damaging the islet (insulin producing) cells of the pancreas. As with colorectal cancer, the heme iron may be partly to blame. The adverse effect of red meat consumption is related to it's high iron content, which can also damage islet cells of the pancreas. The non-heme iron in grains and vegetables is not a problem, since heme iron is more "bioavailable;" and the body continues to absorb it even if we don't need it. It tends to override the regulatory mechanism, which does not happen with non-heme iron.
The NCI's recommendation is to reduce consumption of red and processed meats to one serving a week (about 4 oz.). Replace red meat with poultry, fish, beans, nuts, and soy based "veggie meats." Look for deli meats that are nitrite free.
  • Red meats: Beef, pork, steak, hamburgers, foods made with meat (lasagna, stew) and processed meats made with red meat (beef hot dogs, beef bologna). Yes, pork is a red meat, and not "the other white meat" as the industry claims. (Just an other successfull slogan/snow job!)
  • White meats: Chicken, turkey, fish, and processed white meats (hot dogs, sausage, and deli meats made from poultry).
  • Processed meats: Bacon, sausage, salami, pepperoni, "loaf" type deli meats, chipped ham, hot dogs, whether made with red or white meat.

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