Why Eating Red Meat May Cause Cancer

A Wisconsin man recently ate his 25000th Big Mac, and is in good health.  A Big Mac diet may be keeping him healthy, but the rest of us may not be so lucky.  A recent study from the National Cancer Institute and the NIH looked at meat consumption (both red and white) and the risk of developing esophageal and gastric cancers.  They found that those with a high intake of red meat (about 5 oz. per day in a 2,000 calorie diet) were 80 percent more likely to develop a esophageal cancer than those who with low intake (about 3 oz. per week in a 2,000 calorie diet).  White meat intake was not associated with increased risk of developing cancer.

Why can red meat cause cancer?

When meat is cooked at a high temperature (through grilling, broiling, or roasting), certain chemical compounds called heterocyclic amines are released which are considered carcinogenic.  Also, iron has been shown to cause cancer in animal studies, and red meat is a rich source of iron. Evidence that red meat is linked to other cancers besides esophageal is stronger, including colorectal and liver cancers.

To reduce your risk of developing esophageal cancer, limit red meat intake to once 3 oz. per week. Remember that 3 oz. of cooked red meat is about the size of a deck of cards. It would seem that the safety of this recommendation was upheld by the results of this study.  Cuts of meat which are lower in fat are preferable as well.  Cuts that are naturally lower in fat are loin, tenderloin, chuck and sirloin.  Ground meats should be at least 90/10.

If meat is what’s for dinner, just make sure it’s lean.



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