Breakin’ Down the Facts About Red Meat
Recently the media reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement regarding a possible link between processed and red meats and cancer. National Public Radio’s online headline read “Bad Day For Bacon: Processed Meats Cause Cancer, WHO Says”. Here is what the statement really said.
- There is evidence to support the idea that eating red meat (beef, lamb, pork) causes cancer.
- There is sufficient evidence that processed meat causes cancer, specifically colorectal cancer.
- Eating 50 grams (about 2 oz.) of processed meat daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
- For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.
The most important part of the statement was probably the most underreported.
“These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” says Dr Christopher Wild, Director of IARC. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”
The advice to limit intake of red meat is not new. There are no good foods or bad foods, just foods you should eat more often and those you eat less often– everything in moderation. Even kale, the bastion of healthy eating these days, is not good for you in large quantities.
It’s important to understand the information being presented rather than relying on the media to “position the story”. The media’s job is to make people pay attention to the story. The more sensational the headline, the more likely it is you will read it. Common sense tells me that eating processed or red meat daily is a bad idea. Eating these things once in a while is no riskier than anything else we do and certainly less risky than many of the things Americans do every day – like text and drive.
Limiting your consumption of meat products is a good idea for your health. It is also a good idea for the environment. Did you know that one hamburger takes 460 gallons of water and emits about 4 pounds of greenhouse gas from the combination of fossil fuel required and methane gas released into the environment? Conventionally raised cattle consume 16 times more grain than they produce as meat. The bottom line? If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, eating less red meat makes sense both for your health and the health of the environment.
Just like everything else we make decisions about, you have to be well informed before you make a decision about eating red and processed meats. Look at the facts and make a decision that makes sense for you. American culture tends to be very all or nothing. There is plenty of middle ground between all and nothing. I like to call it moderation.