The links between processed meats and cancer are concerning at a population level, but individuals that eat processed meats certainly don’t need to panic but rather become more aware of the effects of their dietary choices on their health and take this as an opportunity to rethink their eating habits and make some positive changes in the future.
Red meat has been classified as “probably” carcinogenic. Should we be limiting our meat intake per week and to how much?
It is great that the concerns regarding red and processed meat consumption has caught the attention of the media and is being recognised by the WHO, but this is not new evidence and is consistent with the current Australian Dietary Guidelines which recommends the limited intake of red and processed meats.
With regards to processed meats, these should be treated the same as other highly processed foods and eaten “only sometime and in small amounts” as indicated on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
The Eat for Health website also explicitly states:
“Beware that smoked, salted and preserved foods from this food group, such as ham, bacon and salami, are usually higher in saturated fat, salt, and contain chemical properties that may be responsible for increased health risks. Because of this, most of these food choices are placed in the discretionary food group, and consumption of these foods should be limited.”
As for red meat, the Australian dietary guidelines recommend a maximum of 7 serves of red meat per week for an adult, keeping in mind that a serving is only 65g of cook meat (about 90g raw) – about the size of your palm.
Australians have a tendency to consume large portions of meat and generally exceed the recommended 2 -3 serves of meat or alternative per day so most of us could stand to cut back on our meat intake.
The IARC’s report suggests that eating 50g of bacon every day would raise your risk from 64 in 100,000 to 72 in 100,000. Are there alternatives people should be replacing bacon with?
There is no doubt that bacon is delicious but unfortunately that doesn’t justify eating it every day; save it for specially occasions and really enjoy when you have it. You are able to purchase Nitrate free options bacons and hams, but these are still high in salt and saturated fat, so again should be considered a sometimes food.
Great alternatives to processed and red meats in general are seafood which are generally very lean, high protein and boast other great health properties like omega 3; poultry and eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes.
It is also important to be award that cooking meats until they are charred, such as on a BBQ, creates carcinogens and should be avoided. When you do choose to consume meats, turn down the heat and cook the meat slowly to minimise charring and burning.
Meats have been reclassified into “Group 1”, “carcinogenic to humans”. That means that there is “sufficient evidence in humans” that eating large quantities raises the risk of bowel cancer, as a nutritionist what your thoughts are on this?
It is estimated that in 2015, 17,070 new cases of bowel cancer will be diagnosed in Australia (Cancer Australia). Bowel cancer is Australia's second biggest cancer killer in Australia, claiming the lives of 3,980 people every year.
Given these statistics it is really important that people not only become aware of the link between process and red meat and cancer but take on board the messages of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating which not only recommends limiting red meat, categorises processed meats as a ‘discretionary’ or ‘some times’ food, but promotes the intake of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and legumes which are packed with phytonutrients which are cancer protective as well as fibre – the best friend of a healthy bowl.
Whilst the population exceeds the recommended intake of meats and alternatives, we are dismally failing to eat enough fruit and vegetables (about 95% of people)- current population data shows that as a population we are just not following these healthy eating message.
If I can emphasis one point it is that no single food or nutrient is responsible for our health, we must consider our diet and lifestyle as a whole. Following the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating should be the focus for the best health outcomes.