Recently someone asked me what I thought about the new WHO report which classified red meat and processed meats as carcinogens – cancer causing agents – together with substances like alcohol, asbestos, tobacco smoke, mineral oils, estrogen, ionizing radiation and diesel engine exhaust. People tend to read headlines and often the sensationalism of saying a hamburger or roast beef sandwich is just as deadly as smoking can throw people into a panic. But is that the whole truth here?
First of all there’s a difference between red meat and processed meats. Processed meats are defined as being “transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.” Red meat is considered to be “muscle meat such as beef, veal, pork, lamb and mutton.” While the processed meats were classified as definitely carcinogenic, the study said red meat is “probably” carcinogenic and that was in relation to colorectal cancer in particular.
Processing and cooking at high temperatures is what produces certain carcinogens in the meat. That being said the other issue which wasn’t addressed is quality of the meat. I eat red meat. However, I am careful to choose organic, grass fed and finished meat. I believe it comes down to quality. If you eat CAFO beef you are also eating hormones, antibiotics and grains that they are fed.
Putting processed meats in a class equal to smoking cigarettes and red meat just slightly below that is unfair in my opinion. From my understanding, this was not a truly controlled study as the participants did not have similar living conditions, were not in isolation, where everyone involved was eating exactly the same foods, exercising the same, getting the same amount of sleep, and being exposed or not being exposed to other potential carcinogens.
In actuality, properly raised red meat has numerous health benefits and when you choose pasture-raised, it’s actually healthier than white meat in many ways. So what’s my recommendation: I would choose the best quality processed meat you can find (100% natural, from grass-fed without added chemicals) and only have that occasionally and choose only organic, pasture raised (grass-fed and finished) red meat as part of your healthy meals.
Do you eat red meat? What do you think of the new WHO guidelines?
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