Meat, Should We Be Worried?
(Taken from my previous blog)
After the IARC announced this week that they have confirmed a strong link between meat consumption and cancer, many parents on social media are now scrambling for answers as to whether or not they should still be packing their kids the same deli meat sandwiches for lunch. Should we be worried and what can we do? No need to panic, I’ve got you covered with some great alternatives.
Anytime I read a news headline alarming the world of a major health scare, I have to take a step back and really delve through the literature. It’s important to keep things in perspective. Most studies, and mass disseminated information via the media have some end result in mind, and often it’s in the best interest of those funding the studies. And while I don’t have hard evidence of this being the case, I like to look meat consumption from a holistic nutrition perspective and see what we can do to maintain optimal health and keep cancer at bay.
Currently the studies are warning against consumption of red and processed meats, including beef, pork, lamb and goat, and any meat that has been preserved with chemical additives or by smoking, curing, or salting. This means hamburgers after the baseball game, the bacon you love for breakfast, pork chops at Sunday night dinner, that tenderloin you had at your last special occasion, the hot dogs you grilled up by the pool, the pepperoni pizza you ordered because you didn’t want to cook and the ham sandwich you packed your son for lunch yesterday. But why?
There are several reasons why these meats may cause cancer, mostly from either the chemical compounds created during cooking, or the chemicals added to the meat in the processing and preserving. When you cook or char meat at high temperatures, heat causes the nutrients to tangle and fuse together, forming new molecules that can be carcinogenic. In addition, these new molecules can’t be broken down by the body, causing your digestive tract to get backed up. Constipation is one of the reasons we get colon cancer, because toxins stay in the body longer than they should, getting reabsorbed by the colon instead of being excreted. As they circulate in our bodies, they have a genetic and cellular impact.
If you’ve read the ingredient label of a processed meat, you will see that many preservatives are added in order for it to stay good long enough to endure shipping, processing and shelf life in the store. Sodium nitrite and mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) are added to make the meat have the pretty red color that is appealing to your eyes. These same ingredients turn into cancer-causing nitrosamines in the body.
Now if my scientific jargon isn’t enough to have you convinced, then I suggest you watch videos like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on pink slime (aka the ground beef in the burgers your kids eat at school), the making of a hot dog, or the living conditions of a pig in a feed lot, and that might alone be enough to make you think again about your meat choices.
So, what can you do so that you don’t have to stop buying and eating all processed meat products for the rest of your life? I mean we all know that’s not realistic!
1. My first duty is to remind you that your primary food source should come from WHOLE, ORGANIC when possible, REAL food from the earth. From plants and seeds and nuts that contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals and cancer fighting phytonutrients. If you and your kids are living on a diet of mostly processed foods, only worrying about improving your meat standards probably won’t do you much good.
2. If you are going to eat red meat, do it in moderation and remember: organic pasture-raised meat is worth the price. Why? Organic animal products give you more bang for your buck because they benefit from bio-concentration. Animals concentrate nutrients in their fat, so if you are eating a cow that has been raised on healthy soils eating nutrient rich grass, it’s meat will be full of vitamins and minerals that your body can use. It will contain conjugated linoleic acid, which is known to actually reduce tumors, and a healthier ratio of omega 3's which are shown to reduce inflammation. If you eat a cow that has been fed pesticide-laden GMO corn and fed antibiotics and growth hormones, you will be eating those chemicals, as they too accumulate in the fat cells of the animal. In addition they contain higher amounts of Omega 6's, known to raise systemic inflammation, one of the known causes of cancer.
3. If you are going to grill your meat, try to do it on lower heat as to avoid charring. And if you are like me and you accidentally (and often) do get black spots on your steak, simply cut them off. If your palate prefers well done, try to work towards medium rare. The less you cook the meat, the less those nutrients will mutate into a web of foreign compounds.
4. If you are going to consume processed meats….I have to admit I really like bacon for breakfast on occasion…….read the labels before you buy it. Reading labels is a good habit to have for any food you buy – I’m not talking calorie content, but instead the actual ingredients. Health focused grocery stores like Whole Foods employ knowledgeable staff and higher standards for their meat. Become familiar with brands that are nicer to their animals and nicer to your bodies.
5. Cook your own lunch meat (and save a ton of $ in the process). Roast a turkey or some chicken breast and slice your own for use in sandwiches all week. Don't forget to make sure your bread is free of cancer-causing chemicals too! If you don’t have the time to do so, buy better brands.
6. Don’t discount red meat consumption all together. Remember, take these new headlines with some perspective. Red meat is a terrific source of valuable nutrients, such as protein, B12, iron and zinc. If consumed consciously, it can contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
7. Reconsider school lunches. Most meat served in school cafeterias is below food grade, meaning it’s not even allowed to be sold in grocery stores. You can count on antibiotics, preservatives and growth hormones in all meats served in most school lunch programs. Pack your child's lunch to ensure they are getting nutrients that enable growth and learning.
8. Building on #1, coupling constipating meat with high fiber fruits and veggies will keep the plumbing moving. My rule of thumb is fill your plate with half the size of your hand of meat, half the size of your hand with starchy carbs, whole grains or fruits (if you must), and the rest of your plate with vegetables that keep the bowels happy and the body full of nutrients that ward off disease.
To sum it up, cancer prevention at any level really begins with what we put in our bodies, regardless of whether it is red meat or an apple. If we focus on whole, organic when possible, foods from the earth, our bodies will be set up for maximum health. Choose real food, not factory food and you’ll be all set.