It’s looking likely that the association between eating meat (lamb, beef, veal, pork) and cancer may be in part due to our own individual microbiome. This means that a person with a less than healthy gut flora may be at an increased risk of cancer if he or she consumes high amounts of either fresh or processed red meat. Yet a patient with a normal, healthy microbiome may not be. But what are considered ‘high amounts’? Good question and it’s difficult to find any consistency around recommendations, but it varies widely between 60g a couple of times a week, to no more than 7 serves a week, no bigger than 100g each, and then beyond and below this. Furthermore, results from the 2009 European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Oxford) suggest that if moderate meat eaters (less than 100g daily) consume enough fruits and vegetables, their death rates may be similar to vegetarians. I just wonder how accurate these studies are, who’s conducting them, and what type of meat is being used in the research – meaning organic, pasture-fed or conventional, as there is a world of difference between them.
Animals grown today for food are typically fed GMO (genetically engineered) feed, when their natural diet is simply plain grass and air, and not genetically modified. Plus they’re given antibiotics to prevent disease. This difference in the animal’s diet creates an enormously different type of meat. This type of meat is toxic, hormone disrupting and disease-causing.
You may have saw the relatively recent report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an independent agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO), stating that processed red meat was a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer), and fresh red meat was a “Group 2” (probably carcinogenic). The WHO includes hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky, and canned meat among it’s examples of processed meats. (Prosciutto isn’t included in this group btw.)
Carcinogenic compounds called N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) are formed when meat is processed either by curing and/or smoking. NOCs are present whether you buy nitrate-cured meat or natural meat cured with celery extract. After it was discovered that there were high levels of carcinogenic nitrites in bacon and processed meats, some manufacturers reduced the amounts of nitrites and added antioxidants to help protect against the formation of NOCs. NOC’s are still part of processed meats, just in varying levels.
How much is too much?
Cancer Council of Australia says ‘a moderate amount’ of meat is a 65g serve of cooked meat each day, or 2 serves (130g) 3-4 times a week. Avoiding consuming more than 455g of cooked, lean red meat each week.
I believe this to be way too much! Many health experts would agree, recommending that 60g of organic, red meat twice a week is enough. I am one of these.
Cooking meat at high temperatures as you would when you grill, bbq, char-grill, oven broiling, pan fry or deep-fry leads to a reaction between compounds in the meat forming carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Pan-frying at high temperatures leads to the highest accumulation of HCAs, based on a 2015 study.
When fat and juices from meat drip onto the fire of a grill, causing flames, another type of carcinogen called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. These PAHs in the flames then stick to the surface of the meat. PAHs also can form when we smoke meats.
Almost all processed meats are manufactured with large amounts of refined salt added. High dietary (refined) salt concentrations in almost all foods are associated with increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers (mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, and colon), along with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Antibiotics and Pesticides
The excessive use of antibiotics in meat production is a very real concern regarding the dramatic increase in antibiotic-resistant disease in humans. As we know, antibiotics devastate our gut bacteria, and this reason alone is enough to make sure you only buy organically raised, grass-fed meats, as they’re not allowed to use antibiotics, (or GM feed). As for pesticides, non-organic meat is one of the main sources of pesticide exposure, not fruits and vegetables! This is because the animals are fed a diet consisting primarily of GMO grains, which are of course sprayed with pesticides. In Australia this happens less frequently, but it still occurs.
The World Health Organisation report, “Global Strategy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance,” states that farmers’ use of antibiotics in livestock enables microbes to build up defences against the drugs/medications, leap up in the food chain and attack human immune systems. The WHO is one of many major health organisations that are calling for an end to the widespread use antibiotics in poultry and livestock.
Livestock has been fed genetically engineered crops since they were first introduced in 1996 and each of the top 6 GMO crops are heavily utilised by the global animal feed market. Some of the most common ingredients are soy, cotton, corn, canola, sugar beets, and alfalfa – 5 of the top 6 GMO crops. The countries that produce the most animal feed–the United States, Brazil, and China–are all leaders in GMO production, so it’s no surprise to learn that their animal feed products are made up of significant amounts of GMOs. The commercial animal feed industry is by far the largest purchaser of US GMO corn and soybean meal. Of the two largest GMO crops in the United States, 98% soy and 79.5% of corn goes directly into feeding animals, and btw also used for fuelling cars in the US. See GMO
Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chicken farming contribute to around 6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) each year. This is around 18% of global emissions, but some estimate this at more like 51%. Clearly the rate at which we’re eating meat can’t be sustained. Beef has the highest carbon footprint compared with poultry, fish, and plant foods. The top environmental concerns with commercial red meat production are greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use, fertilisers/pesticides, GMO and antibiotic use.