So, today my beef is with red meat – i.e. lamb, pork, veal, beef and processed meats.
Nine years ago, two major studies reported the link between red meat consumption and colon cancer. To be honest, I had entirely forgotten about it until recently. Now that my passion for plant-based diets is burning strong, I want to revisit these findings.
Basically… Increased red meat consumption is associated with a significantly higher risk of colorectal cancer.
Two longitudinal studies published in 2005 found strikingly similar correlations between red meat consumption and colon cancer. If you’re anything like me, you won’t believe what you read without sufficient evidence; so, here are the numbers…
The American Cancer Society studied 150,000 people between 50 and 74 years old over a 20 year time span. They found those who ate a lot of red meat were 30-40% more likely to develop colon cancer. Further research by the same team, published in 2013, also found that reducing red meat intake could improve colorectal cancer sufferers’ chance of survival.
At the same time, a European 5-year study of 478,000 individuals also found the people who consumed the most red meat were about a third more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Their findings were confirmed by another European study (involving over half a million participants) several years later.
According to Harvard Medical School, “A meta-analysis of 29 studies of meat consumption and colon cancer concluded that a high consumption of red meat increases risk by 28%, and a high consumption of processed meat increases risk by 20%.”
There are also other risk factors involved in developing colorectal cancer – like genetic predisposition, being overweight or obese, smoking, low fibre intake, alcohol use and little physical activity. However, I find the aforementioned research pretty compelling.
Why Is Red Meat Bad?
The jury is still out on this one. A leading theory is that preservatives in processed red meat – such as sausages, salami and ham – are converted to carcinogenic nitrates by the body. Other research from the UK suggests that N-nitroso compounds found in red meat induce DNA changes in the bowels.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Various sources recommend eating no more than two 100g servings of red meat per week to minimise the risk of bowel cancer. When you do eat it, lean meats are the best choices. Although for me, cutting out red meat altogether seemed like the best option.
My grandma died from bowel cancer several years ago. Her diagnosis was a shock to us all, as she was an active and healthy woman. She had only retired from teaching pre-primary a few of years prior. She ate healthy foods and never touched sugar. But, my grandpa was in the sausage casing industry so they always ate a lot of red meat.
Looking at her experience now, I can’t help but make the connection between bowel cancer and red meat consumption. Personally, I am happy eating a plant-based diet and am glad that it could also help prevent cancer (specifically one I may already be predisposed to!). Prevention is the best cure. 🙂