Meat and Cancer Worry

March 29, 2016 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Health by Joyce Bunderson

The science has been around for over 20 years verifying an increased risk of colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer with eating processed and red meat. That science was known a long time before we wrote Farewell Bacon, My Dear Bacon (2012) and Porking Out (2011); a couple of fun pieces from a few years back. But it seems that people are beginning to take notice since the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent report. The report from WHO said that their conclusions designating processed and red meats as a “Group 1” carcinogen are as certain as that cigarettes are a carcinogen. That’s pretty dang sure. They evaluated over 800 studies to come to that conclusion; don’t miss the American Institute for Cancer Research’s post answering many questions about processed red meat as related to WHO’s report.

Science is still not sure what it is about red meat and especially processed meat that causes the problem. In the case of the processed meat, three of the long-held theories are that the nitrates/nitrites, salt are to blame, or alternately, that something happens chemically during the processing itself. In the case of red meat the only theories that I’ve read are; a link with the high amount of heme iron in red meat; or the high temperatures of grilling and pan-frying that cause a change.

We don’t have to wait around to find out what actually causes the problems with meat. We can act now. The advice for decreasing risk involves decreasing frequency of intake, controlling portion size, and substituting other protein foods for red and processed meats.

Just to be clear on what processed meat is let me name the big categories: Meat that has been transformed to enhance flavor or improve preservation by salting, curing, fermentation (think pickled meat), adding chemical preservatives, smoking or other processes. These meats include bacon, hot dogs, ham, sausages, jerky, pastrami, and cold cuts. Fresh red meats also have an increased risk, but at a lower rate; they include veal, goat, pork, beef and lamb.”

What are some options for reducing your risk?

  • Cook at lower temperatures, like roasting or braising; for example, making stews, soups and crock-pot recipes, and stir-fries.
  • Replace packaged deli meats with freshly cooked or canned chicken or fish. Try a tuna or chicken sandwich with some Greek yogurt and/or mustard.
  • Sometimes we want a burger. Our burgers are salmon patties or cod patties. Yum!
  • Replace sausage with fresh ground chicken or turkey. One recipe that I’ve made historically is Greens and Beans; it usually has sausage in it. This is my recipe:
    • Sausage tasting ground turkey - (good with Greens and White beans)
      • ¼ to ½ teaspoon fennel seed
      • 1/8-teaspoon red pepper flakes
      • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
      • 1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic
      • 1/8-teaspoon nutmeg
      • 1/8-teaspoon ginger
      • ½ teaspoon rubbed sage
      • ½ teaspoon thyme
      • Salt to taste
    • Mix all spice ingredients with extra virgin olive oil; fry ½ pound ground turkey, turning frequently, until browned. Add one gallon of chopped greens (I used Swiss chard) – cover and cook for about 5 minutes until greens have collapsed. Add 2 – 15 oz. cans of drained white beans. 1-cup low sodium chicken stock. Cook for 10 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar. Serve.
    • Make up a bunch of zip-lock sandwich bags for future convenience – spice packets to add to future purchases of fresh ground turkey. Then they’re already mixed when you’re ready to make a recipe with “sausage.” Getting the spices out once and packaging them for multiple future meals saves time.
  • Use many recipes without meat. Bean recipes are an easy place to start. Tofu is really delicious if you spice it up. There are many kinds of recipes that taste great but have less meat; casseroles, stir-fries; soups, stews all can work with much less meat than serving even a modest 3-ounce piece of meat on a plate.
  • When you do decide to have red meat, try to keep it to a piece of meat about the size of a deck of playing cards. Note: That’s not the mini roast that is served in restaurants.
  • Bulk your menus with additional servings of vegetables. Consider serving both a salad and a cooked vegetable at the same meal.

Don’t be overly worried about cancer risk. If your regular eating is not high in processed or red meat; once in a while enjoy your favorite hot dog or my dear bacon.