As you’ve probably heard, the World Health Organization has declared processed meat as definitively carcinogenic to humans and red meat as “probably” carcinogenic. Vegetarians and vegans had cause for celebration at this news, but the rest of the world reacted with an understandable amount of terror.
Over at Huffington Post, a nutritionist laid out some of the facts of this revelation in an easy to understand way.
First off, the news that processed meat is carcinogenic is not exactly new. The research has been going for decades and if you’ve seen the influx of health documentaries like “Food, Inc” you’ve probably noticed that. Also, it simply shouldn’t be surprising. Even the most lamen of eaters have to know that spam and hot dogs aren’t natural or good for you.
Regardless, the International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR) recently gathered 22 scientists to review 800 studies regarding the consumption of processed meat (anything salted, fermented cured or smoked) and red meat. Their conclusion was that “on the basis of the large amount of data and the consistent associations of colorectal cancer with consumption of processed meat across studies in different populations, which make chance, bias, and confounding unlikely as explanations, a majority of the Working Group concluded that there is sufficient evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of processed meat.”
Essentially, even when you rule out the other possible contributory factors, such as chance and bias, the correlation data between processed meat and cancer remains. This is bad news if you’re an avid meat eater, but it’s not a death sentence. There are a few things you can do to lower your risk of the worst health effects.
Avoid Processed Meat the Vast Majority of the Time
This includes ham, bacon, sausages, and any meat that’s been salted, cured, fermented, smoked or otherwise preserved. If you have to have your bacon, choose an ethical brand such as Applegate or Niman Ranch. However, keep in mind that these companies still make products that fall into the IARC’s definition of “processed.”
Eat Grass-Fed Organic Red Meat Options
Buying more ethically treated meats is not only good for the world, it’s good for your diet. They also taste better, and a little can go a long way. Eat grass fed beef or lamb in small portions.
Eat Your Vegetables!
Mom was right in this case. You should always fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables or salad. They’re packed with cancer-preventing antioxidants and will help neutralize the damage done by processed meat products.
Be Careful How You Cook Red Meat
Cooking red meat at a high temperature forms polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and nitroso-compounds (NOCs) which are both cancer causing chemicals. Cooking over a lower temperature for a longer time can help prevent this.
Be A Healthy Vegetarian
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you still have to be health conscious. Oreos and Fritos may be vegan but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy. If you eat your (real) vegetables and highquality vegetarian protein instead of processed veggie burgers and sausages.
Manage Your Health Holistically
Nutrition is not the whole picture when it comes to preventing cancer. Managing your stress, exercising and staying well hydrated are all steps you can take to improve your overall health.