There have been a lot of headlines this week regarding red meat causing cancer. Any time you see the words “cause cancer,” your antenna should go up as something being a bogus, yet catchy headline. Certainly, it makes professionals and non-professionals read that article, the former of which to find which studies they are referencing, and the latter to freak out about something new to avoid and fear because a reporter is spinning a story.
This is going around: “a 17% increased risk per 100 g per day of red meat and an 18% increase per 50 g per day of processed meat.” Risk is not the same as causing. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) did classify it as a carcinogen, but it may not be the same strength as other carcinogens. It just means there is substantial evidence.
I went to Rudy’s BBQ over the weekend for a friend’s birthday party. It was DELICIOUS. I normally cook vegetarian when by myself, but when eating out I am not a vegetarian as I’m not an ethical vegetarian but a health vegetarian (and if vegetarian, eating red meat infrequently might get your iron stores up higher if low).
There were no vegetables on the menu other than potatoes, beans, and cream corn, which lacks the benefits of a vegetable as it is NOT low calorie, with pickles and onions only as something you could pick up from the side bar. There was also potato salad and cole slaw, both not so good choices if you’re going to pick a vegetable, again because they are not low calorie or fibrous or colorful.
The group I went with mostly chose no sides (I saw a potato), but in their defense, you had to pay for the aforementioned vegetables other than onions and pickle slices separately.
I think colon cancer risk has more to do with NOT EATING ANY HIGH FIBER COLORFUL VEGETABLES AT ALL than it being red meat influencing cancer risk. The type of people who eat red meat often tend to just not eat any vegetables or do other healthy behaviors, like physical activity, that cause motility of the lower GI tract due to the serotonin release that happens post exercise.
I know Rudy’s is a place families tend to eat multiple times a week because, yes, it is delicious. I have not had better brisket than that in my life, and I grew up eating BBQ in Texas. I am not receiving any financial or other ties to Rudy’s BBQ either to promote them, to be clear.
However, they could do the world a population cancer risk reduction by not charging for vegetables separately and steering off the full-on BBQ image by adding some non-traditional vegetables like broccoli, carrots, or side salads that are not iceberg lettuce with cream sauce and actually green and provide vitamin K and fiber.
Anyway, red meat should not be viewed as completely bad and should be enjoyed in moderation and with vegetables. Moderation is not every day of the week. Moderation is not 5 times a week. Moderation is not 4 times a week. Moderation is not 3 times a week.
Moderation is 2 or less times a week, in my strong opinion, provided you eat it with vegetables that are considered colorful, fibrous, and nutritious. However, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends less than 18 oz of red meat per week, which would be more than I personally recommend as a serving of meat is usually 3-4 oz (21-28 g of protein), so multiply that by 2 meals.
Resources on this topic were provided by Jeff Novick, MS, RD, LD, who does an excellent job keeping us RDs up to date with the latest on studies via the weight management dietetic practice group listserv. Linked are what the World Health Organization actually said about red meat and cancer risk (study link too). Read up, if you want to know.
Also, take into account the list of known carcinogens by the research, conveniently found on wikipedia. It is not the list of the intensity of the carcinogen, but the evidence for it that exists.