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Debunking the red meat & cancer link once againDebunking the red meat & cancer link once again

Grilling steaks during the summer months is a relaxing and enjoyable pastime, but should consumers be worried about cooking red meat at high grill temperatures?

Amanda Radke

June 19, 2018

5 Min Read
Debunking the red meat & cancer link once again
Amanda Radke

The word “cancer” has become synonymous with the bogey man. Americans have a heightened awareness that cancer, like the bogey man, could be lurking around every dark corner; however, we aren’t sure where the danger exists and how we can keep the “C” word from entering into our lives.

While the bogey man is fictitious, the risk of cancer is certainly not. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes.

Understandably, if we can lower our risk of cancer, we will live longer, healthier lives. But determining which things we should avoid in order to lower that risk is a bit tricky, particularly with so many contradicting opinions and studies on the subject.

Of course, there are a few lifestyle habits to avoid that will undoubtedly lower the risk of cancer.

READ: I call bull on red meat & breast cancer link

By and large, scientists agree that tanning beds are linked to skin cancer. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology reports that the use of indoor tanning beds before age 35 can increase your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 59%.

Tobacco use has also been strongly linked to cancer. The Centers for Disease Control acknowledges that nine out of every 10 cases of lung cancer are tied to the use of smoking cigarettes and cigars. Furthermore, 40% of all cancers and cancer deaths, based on current evidence, are caused by tobacco use, and it’s not just lung cancer, but can also manifest as throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, rectum and acute myeloid leukemia.

It’s hard to refute the evidence that tanning and tobacco are high-cancer lifestyle risks, but what other factors should be considered in order to lower risk? Our nutrition, physical activity, exposure to toxins in the home and at the workplace, pollution, radiation and some viruses and infections can all lead to cancer.

To identify these risk factors is a huge challenge, and again, with so much uncertainty, cancer — or the threat of a cancer diagnosis — does feel a lot like fighting the bogey man. It can be hard to know where to focus your energies to ward off an enemy that we can’t see and doesn’t play by the same rules as we do.

Today, there are cancer warnings on just about everything, and while some make perfect sense, others — like warning consumers away from consuming a whole, natural food like beef — seem illogical and irrational.

READ: Study claims red meat triggers cancer; Here’s 5 resources that say otherwise

In the case of red meat, you may recall how the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) proclaimed that red meat “probably” causes cancer. Understandably, the classification caused an uproar, and the World Health Agency was quick to backtrack on these erroneous claims.

Yet, IARC’s statements were top stories in the news for months, and despite there being numerous studies and scientific reviews to the contrary, the damage was done — consumers read the media headlines and the take-home message was clear — don’t eat beef if you don’t want cancer.

Yet, with the classification came more confusion than clarity. What is it about red meat (and not poultry or fish) that causes cancer?

Some say it’s “sugars” found in meat that leads to insulin resistance, diabetes and chronic inflammation leading to cancer. Ever check a label on a cut of beef? There are no sugars found in red meats, so that argument falls flat.

Others accuse the high heat of the grill as the cause for cancer. Why, then, do these experts say that chicken or vegetables cooked at those same temperatures are safe to consume but not steak?

Some say it’s not red meat, but actually processed meats because of the salt and nitrates. If that was the case, then shouldn’t we avoid salt in all foods?

To me, these classifications don’t ring true, and there are countless studies that would agree with me. Yet, the myth continues to grow and so does the cloud of uncertainty when it comes to red meat in the diet.

READ: 3 ways to disprove IARC on red meat and cancer link

Recently, the topic of beef and cancer has circled again — this time in an article published by TIME magazine. Published on June 1 and written by Jamie Ducharme, the article is titled “4 ways to make grilling healthier this summer,” and it calls into question the healthfulness of grilling meat — a timely topic considering that’s one of America’s favorite pastimes during the summer months.

READ: Red meat does not cause cancer, study concludes

The article essentially recaps all these myths into one place, and despite acknowledging that red meat is packed with iron, protein and B vitamins, it also encourages readers to only consume steaks occasionally and consider burgers as a treat instead of a go-to.

Instead, readers are supposed to choose fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables as their preferred foods on the grill, again ignoring evidence that proves the contrary — red meat, whether a grilled steak or a stick of beef jerky, is nutritious and safe to consume without guilt.

It’s worth noting the thoughts of cancer epidemiologist Dominik Alexander, PhD, on this topic. Through independent research, Alexander has concluded, “Most summary associations between red meat and processed meat and cancer are weak in magnitude and not statistically significant. Many associations for red/processed meat and cancer from individual studies are null or inverse. The majority of associations from individual studies are not statistically significant. It’s nearly impossible to disentangle the independent effects of red meat from the complex human diet and lifestyle.”

READ: Eating red meat will not increase colorectal cancer risk, study suggests

If you want to read more of the science debunking these claims, I encourage you to click on the links provided throughout this blog post. You may find, like I have, that these cancer experts are, at best, grasping at straws to make a strong case against beef, and at worst, are basing their findings, not on solid science and research, but on personal biases surrounding their ideologies about the environment and animal welfare.

I hope our consumers will continue to grill their favorite beef cuts this summer without fear of the “C” word. Perhaps by sharing studies that negate these cancer claims, we can ease consumer concerns and get back to the enjoyment of barbecuing with beef!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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