There is a lot of talk about red meat, processed foods, and cancer again on the news, the internet, Facebook, TikTok, and X. It looks like it's getting a lot of attention this time. This isn't the first time the media has tried to make red meat and/or processed meat look bad, though.
Let's Take a Deeper Look Into This
This new study was written up in The Lancet, a well-known and respected journal, but it was reported by the World Health Organization. The WHO is important, and most people think it's the "last word" on health around the world. In October of this year, 22 scientists from ten different countries got together in Lyon, France, to look at the data from this study.
I can't say that this report wasn't comprehensive enough because it looked at more than 800 epidemiological studies from many areas and countries, with people of different races and diets. In contrast to a 2007 study that looked at red meat and processed meat together, this one looked at both types of meat separately and put them into different groups. This wasn't a small "fly-by-night" study.
What Did the Study Say?
The WHO actually put processed meats in the same "Group 1 Established Carcinogen" group as asbestos, cigarettes, benzene, nuclear fallout, plutonium, and x-rays in this most recent study. That's some scary stuff! If you've ever read the list of chemicals on a hot dog package, that's also some scary stuff!
People who work as hairdressers, are exposed to glycophosphates, DDT, frying at high temperatures, and red meat are all put in the same "Group 2A Probable Carcinogens" category by the WHO. A "Probable Carcinogen" could be almost anything at this point.
Animal meat like beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat meat is all red meat.
Processed meats are red meats like pork, beef, or other red meats that have been salted, pickled, or smoked, and often with chemicals added to keep them fresh, like nitrates and nitrites, which are known to cause cancer. A big change.
The most important part of the study showed that eating a lot of packaged meats was linked to a high risk of colon cancer. This is been known for a while. This has been shown many times, for example in these 2013 and 2005 studies about processed meats and cancer.
When it comes to red meat, things are a little different. Red meat has one of the best proteins in the world, along with zinc, heme iron (which is easier for the body to use than iron from plant-based sources), and high levels of vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins. If you eat grass-fed meat, you'll also get a healthy dose of omega-3 fats and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which fights cancer and burns fat.
So, What's The Truth?
What is the real risk of eating raw meat or meat that has been processed? The study says that the risk goes up with the amount of red meat or prepared meat that is eaten. Heart disease risk went up 17% for every 100 grams of red meat eaten and 18% for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten.
In other words, eating processed meat is about twice as dangerous as eating raw meat. One study from May 2011 however, says that there isn't a strong link between red meat and colorectal cancer. Not clear.
According to a WHO study, processed meat is about the same level of risk as cigarettes, and red meat is a little lower. So how much does eating cured and processed meats really raise your risk of cancer?
Even though a 17% to 18% rise in risk sounds like a lot, you also need to look at the total risk of colon cancer.
While colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer and the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths, the average 50-year-old has a 1.8% chance of getting colon cancer at some point in their career. That's not very high. That's only 17–18% of that 1.8% that goes up if you eat red and processed meat and get colon cancer. Does that make sense?
If you eat cured and processed meats, you have a 1 in 33,000 chance of getting bowel cancer, which is three more cases of colon cancer for every 100,000 people. If you smoke cigarettes, you have twenty times the chance of getting cancer for this reason.
But the most important thing that isn't looked at here is that this study and this group of people have a lot of lifestyle factors that can't be managed. As part of a real controlled study, everyone would live in a similar environment and be left alone. They would eat the same foods, exercise the same amount, get the same amount of sleep, and be exposed to or not exposed to other possible toxins, among other things.
That's not possible, and because cancer takes a long time to form, the study has to be an observational one that doesn't look at diet, lifestyle, or other environmental hazards that can cause cancer. This article talks about the different ways that science studies are done.
Obviously, people who eat a lot of red meat don't eat a lot of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. Instead, they eat fast food burgers that are raised on factory farms and are fed grains and antibiotics and growth hormones. These burgers usually come with a highly processed wheat flour bun (you know why wheat flour is bad for you), sauces that are full of preservatives, and often chemical-filled French fries.
Also, don't forget the big scoop of highly refined, highly sweetened catsup. Sugar and corn syrup make you more likely to get cancer. I also doubt that most people who eat a lot of red and processed meat stick to their daily exercise, yoga class, or meditation plan. Most of the time, people who eat a lot of red meat are not the healthiest people in the world. I know that's a broad statement, but the point is that these studies are flawed because the normal person who eats a lot of meat might also smoke, drink, eat a lot of junk food, or do other bad things.
After all, most people who eat a lot of red meat don't do what you and I do, which is to eat organic, pasture-raised red meat with lots of vegetables and other vitamins.
Also, remember that most red meat is made over high heat. For flavor, meat is often seared, grilled, or charred, which makes heterorocylic amines, which are another group of carcinogenic chemicals. We talk about these in this article: Never grill meat unless you do THIS first.
When animals are used to make processed meat, they are usually not of the highest quality (Grade A), and they are often sick and diseased. The chemicals, fillers, flavor enhancers, and artificial colors that are used to keep this "food" fresh are also important to the study. Have you recently read what's in the sausage or hot dog wrapper? Most of these chemicals can cause cancer on their own.
Is It Time to Give Up The Steak?
When it comes to health, red meat is better than white meat in many ways, especially if it was raised on grass. But if you pick the wrong source or type, it can also be bad. In a normal factory farm, animals are mistreated, given drugs, crowded, sick, and killed in cruel ways, making their lives very miserable. It's a very sad situation, and I think about it more every day. This is why my family only buys meat that was grown in the right way—on pasture—with the right food, without being crowded, and with kindness throughout its entire life.
That being said, I'm also not in favor of being vegan or vegetarian (at least when it comes to health). The truth is that most people have major nutritional deficiencies that can lead to bigger health problems in the future. It's also not possible to get the nutrients you miss when you don't eat meat from supplements. This is an interesting blog post about how one woman's health got worse after she became a vegan. It will be clear to you how she got better by eating meat again.
So what can be done to fix the problems that might come up from eating red meat and processed meat?
To solve both problems, choose meats that were raised on grass when you do eat red meat and eat less processed meats unless they are made with spices and herbs instead of chemicals. Eat the healthiest kinds of red meat: grass-fed, locally raised meat, if you can find it (it has good fats and antioxidants that fight cancer, like CLA); stay away from fast food and commercially raised meats, which have the worst meat possible. One important thing you can do for your health is to eat a lot of fresh, organic veggies.
Also, know that many herbs and sauces can help fight cancer, which can help balance out the cancer-causing effects of the processed meats you eat. Another example of this would be putting a lot of turmeric in your bacon and eggs in the morning. Turmeric is a very strong spice that fights cancer, so it helps balance out any cancer-causing chemicals in the bacon.
Put herbs and spices in your meat before cooking it, and don't cook it over high heat. Cooking and grilling at high heat creates a lot of poisons. If you want to avoid getting E. coli, eat your meat rare or medium-rare. Ground beef from grass-fed cattle doesn't tend to produce it.
Avoid hot dogs and smoked lunch meats as much as possible—I don't even think of them as "real" meat! You should only eat 100% natural, chemical-free bacon or other "processed" foods once in a while. If possible, you should also get meat that was raised on pasture.
Avoid processed meats and meat raised in factories; choose pasture-raised meats instead. This is the best thing for your body and health, and it's also the best thing for the world.In the long run, both you and the earth will be much better.