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Red meat: The good, the bad and the ugly

By Chioma Obinna

Does eating red meat increase the risk of dying from heart disease or cancer?

This and others are the one million dollar questions that keep coming up, fueled by research and high-profile campaigns by advocacy groups on both sides of the debate.

Many experts have been working on the answers to these questions. Read what the experts say about them:

Scientists and studies say for heart disease, the answer is clear. This is because some red meats are high in saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol and High levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease.

When it comes to cancer, the answer is not so clear. Many researchers say they do raise the risk, especially for colorectal cancer.

But a recent study concluded that people who ate the most red meat and processed meat over a 10-year-period were likely to die sooner than those who ate smaller amounts. Those who ate about four ounces of red meat a day were more likely to die of cancer or heart disease than those who ate the least, about a half-ounce a day. Epidemiologists classified the increased risk as “modest” in the study.

• Fresh meat could be good or bad. Studies show that people who ate the most red meat and processed meat are likely to die sooner . Moderation is the key when it comes to consumption of meat

The meat industry contends there is no link between red meat, processed meats, and cancer, and says that lean red meat fits into a heart-healthy diet.  However, this study has been criticised by many meat sellers, saying that studies that rely on participants to recall what foods they eat cannot prove cause and effect.

But many studies have found similar links and nutritionists have maintained that the association between consumption of red and processed meats and cancer, particularly colorectal cancer, is very consistent.

After a systemic review of scientific studies, an expert panel of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded in 2007 that “red or processed meats are convincing or probable sources of some cancers.” Their report says evidence is convincing for a link between red meat, processed meat, and colorectal cancer, and limited but suggestive for links to lung, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, and endometrial cancers.

The report points to a large number of studies that link red meat consumption with chronic diseases.

If eating red meat does increase the risk of cancer, what’s the cause?

That’s not clear, but there are several areas that researchers are studying, including:

* Saturated fat, which has been linked to cancers of the colon and breast as well as to heart disease.

* Carcinogens formed when meat is cooked.

* Heme iron, the type of iron found in meat, may produce compounds that  can damage cells, leading to cancer.

Are there nutritional benefits from eating red meat?

Red meat is high in iron, something many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years are lacking. The heme iron in red meat is easily absorbed by the body. Red meat also supplies vitamin B12, which helps make DNA and keeps nerve and red blood cells healthy, and zinc, which keeps the immune system working properly. Red meat provides protein, which helps build bones and muscles.

Calorie for calorie, beef is one of the most nutrient-rich. One 3-ounce serving of lean beef contributes only 180 calories, but you get 10 essential nutrients”

Is pork a red meat or a white meat?
It is a red meat, the amount of myoglobin, a protein in meat that holds oxygen in the muscle, determines the color of meat. Pork is considered a red meat because it contains more myoglobin than chicken or fish.
How much red meat should I eat?

Opinions differ here, too. Most  nutritionists suggest focusing on sensible portion sizes and lean red meat cuts, for those who choose to eat it. Some nutritionists say people don’t need to give up red meat but they need to make better selections in the type of meat they eat and the portions.

Can grilling red meat cause cancer?
High-temperature cooking of any muscle meat, including red meat, poultry, and fish, can generate compounds in food that may increase cancer risk. They are called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

How can you reduce potential cancer-causing compounds when grilling?
* Choose lean red meat cuts when grilling to reduce the chance of flare-ups or heavy smoke, which can leave carcinogens on the meat.

* If grilling, cook over medium heat or indirect heat, rather than over high heat, which can cause flare-ups and overcook or char meat. Limit frying and broiling, which also subject meat to high temperatures.

* Don’t overcook meat. Well-done meat contains more of the cancer-causing compounds. But make sure that meat is cooked to a safe internal temperature to kill bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. For steaks, cook to 145 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit; for burgers, cook to 160 degrees.

*Turn meat frequently. Use tongs or a spatula rather than a fork to avoid releasing juices that can drip and cause flare-ups.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.