Meat linked to cancer? What you can do about it

The World Health Organization (WHO) threw everyone into a panic by categorizing red and processed meat as cancer-causing agents

Racha Adib
Racha Adib - Special to Al Arabiya News
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
3 min read

The World Health Organization (WHO) threw everyone into a panic on Monday by releasing a report categorizing red and processed meat as cancer-causing agents. However, that is not new information. Dietitians have been advising against processed and red meats for years. Studies have long linked red meat to certain cancers in the digestive tracts, specifically bowel and colorectal cancers.

Nonetheless, it is important that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of WHO, has finally taken a step to give this issue more weight. According to the IARC, eating processed meats can lead to bowel cancer in humans, while red meat is probably carcinogenic. As much as half of the red meat eaten around the world is processed.

The group defined processed meats as those treated to enhance flavor and increase shelf life through salting, curing, fermenting or smoking, such as salami, sausages and bacon. These meats were placed in the group 1 carcinogen risk along with tobacco and asbestos, in which there is sufficient evidence of their cancer-causing capabilities.

The IARC statement has raised debate about how unhealthy red meat is. The problem is, scientists cannot say exactly how much is too much. Cancer remains a complex disease, making the link even more difficult. What is evident is that the more meat - especially processed meat - you consume, the greater the risk. Red meats are high in saturated fat, which has been linked to cancer, and when treated, certain chemicals are created that have been identified as carcinogenic.

With all this information, what can one do? Here are some tips to reduce your cancer risk.

That does not mean you need to cut out meat completely. Red meat should be an occasional food. Most people consume far more meat than is healthy. Also, choose healthier protein sources such as beans, fish, tofu and chicken.

Choose fresh instead of cured, dried, preserved, or smoked meats. Avoid high-temperature cooking such as frying, grilling or charbroiling, because they can increase your cancer risk. Safer methods include baking, broiling and poaching - this reduces the formation of cancer-causing chemicals during cooking. Go easy on the barbecuing, because burning or charring meats creates carcinogenic substances. If you do barbecue, marinate the meat beforehand and do not overcook.

There are a number of great cancer-fighting foods that counter the carcinogenic effect of meat. Herbs and spices such as curry powder, garlic, turmeric, onions, basil, rosemary and ginger can boost your immunity. Colorful vegetables such as beets, broccoli, purple cabbage and leafy greens have cancer-fighting properties.

Top Content Trending