By Wayne Litke
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a report that will undoubtedly upset a lot of people, and it’s about time such information came from a reputable agency at the global level. The report states what many scientists and health professionals have been saying for years: processed meat is not a good food since it can increase a person’s chance of developing cancer. Processed meats have now been lumped in a No. 1 hazard listing that also contains cancer-causing agents such as plutonium, asbestos, tobacco, alcohol and diesel fumes.
The report also states red meat is “probably carcinogenic” and that statement needs to be more carefully considered, so that we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I am not saying that simply because we live in an agricultural area and beef prices reached a very healthy level in 2015. As humans, and with the influence of advertising and marketing, we tend to bounce from one extreme to another, so the warning about eating red meat needs to be more carefully considered since other factors come into play.
Scientists at the International Agency for Research (based in France) have been studying the matter and released their findings on Monday. The group gave processed red meats a hazardous goods classification based on evidence that meats such as bacon, sausage, ham and other cold cuts increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Eating 50 grams of such products a day increases a person’s chance of developing cancer by 18 per cent. A 50-gram serving is 1.75 ounces and is approximately the size of the palm of a hand (a small to medium-size hand).
Processed meats include a wide variety of products that have their flavour changed and shelf life greatly expanded by processes such as curing, salting, smoking, fermenting or the addition of preservatives. Their consumption is also associated with stomach cancer according to the report.
Oh dear, I suppose I have to also say good-bye to my favourite pepperoni and lunch meat now! However, I know quite well that will not happen if I reason long enough with myself. Desire almost always overrules intellect, except in an extreme case that involves a life-threatening condition or situation.
What about the wiener, the childhood and camping food that is a stand-alone staple?
The American Institute for Cancer Research first sounded the alarm in 2009 when it reported that a 50-gram serving of processed meat (which is the equivalent of one hot dog) per day raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 per cent. It is interesting that fast food such as a hot dog that tastes good on the way in can significantly increase the risk of developing serious problems in a person’s outgoing department. According to Dr. Mercola, the warning has largely gone unheeded as his fellow Americans spent $2.5 billion on nitrite-laden wieners in 2013 and eat more than seven billion hot dogs during the summer months alone.
The 20 scientists who worked on the most recent report for the World Health Organization also noted that consumption of red meat is linked to cancers including those that develop in the colon, pancreas and prostate. The report stated a diet of 100 grams of red meat per day increases a person’s risk of cancer by 17 per cent. While it stated red meat is likely carcinogenic, it also said the findings of the study were based on limited data. For people who care, an eight-ounce steak is approximately 225 grams.
On the positive side, red meat was noted to have health benefits as it contains important nutrients such as vitamin B-12, zinc and iron. More importantly, the way it is cooked is a huge factor in its role as a possible cancer-causing substance. High-temperature methods of cooking such as pan-frying or grilling are suspected of producing carcinogenic compounds in red meat, especially in areas of food that are burned or charred. Therefore barbecuing does not appear to be a health-conscious choice when it comes to cooking food, but my wife has yet to change her cooking habits (because she does not burn our food she explained after reading this).
In a conciliatory fashion, the research group said their study provided a good reason to reduce consumption of processed and red meats. It was noted that eating a bacon sandwich is not as hazardous as smoking, but the risk of developing cancer increases with the amount of meat that is consumed. A WHO spokesman said there is no need to stop eating meat, but consider cutting back and limiting the amount of processed meats and red meat that is consumed.
Before I throw in the towel and turn vegetarian or vegan, it seems to me that consuming red meat or meat in any form should be accompanied by a balanced diet and logical thinking (aka: common sense). We should be eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and foods rich in fibre. Avoid processed foods and stay clear of genetically-modified foods and products that have been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides if possible. Maintain adequate body weight, get exercise and limit the consumption of alcohol.
There is no magic formula to eating healthily – it just takes a little discipline (which I continue to work on) in order to avoid unhealthy food.