With cancer being linked to eating red meat last week, people had yet another carcinogenic to worry about.
This week Ellen Roche, who is a registered dietician and member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute gives readers advice on what to do.
A varied balanced diet is key to a healthy lifestyle.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) examined more than 800 human studies which confirmed previous knowledge on the association between diet and cancer risks.
The WHO found that small increases in the risk of several cancers may be associated with high consumption of red meat or processed meat.
It’s estimated that 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat. Now, you might begin to think twice about the choice of sandwich filler for your child’s lunchbox or reconsider the types of protein sources placed in the shopping trolley each week.
Processed meat was classified as Group 1 carcinogenic to humans. This category is used when there is convincing evidence that an agent causes cancer.
There is sufficient research from epidemiological studies (observing large populations) that eating processed meat causes bowel cancer.
The risk generally increased with the amount of meat consumed, that is for every 50 gram (2oz) portion of processed meat eaten daily (the equivalent of two sausages), it increases the risk of colorectal cancer by a whopping 18%.
Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.
Examples of processed meat include hot dogs, ham, sausages, pudding, salami, corned beef, beef jerky and canned meat.
The nitrites and nitrates used to preserve ham and sausages may explain why some studies find that processed meat increases the risk of cancer to a greater extent than red meat. In the bowel, nitrites are thought to convert into N-nitroso compounds, which can spark cancerous cells.
Red meat was classified as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans. The classification is based on limited evidence from studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as links with pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
Red meat is defined as all mammalian muscle meat including, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.
Red meat contains a red pigment called haem, which potentially irritates the cells in the bowel.
These cells divide much more than normal to compensate for this damage, which stimulates a cancer growth.
There is some evidence that the effects of haem could be countered by chlorophyll, found in green vegetables so try to include plenty of green veggies with dinner. Almost all red and processed meats contain more haem than white meats. This may explain why red and processed meats increase bowel cancer risk while white meats do not (chicken or turkey).
Red meat is an important source of iron and vitamin B12 in the diet, particularly since one in five Irish women under 50 years of age have iron deficiency anaemia.
The key messages from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland are to consume red meat to a maximum of three times per week and in small portions (no bigger than the palm of your hand).
Include chicken, turkey and fish on other days for main meals. Cook meats gently by steaming, poaching or stewing at lower temperatures and serve with large portions of vegetables.
Try to include more plant based proteins, lentils, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds, when finding the balance with red and processed meats.
Limit processed meats as much as possible, by varying sandwich fillers for lunch and leave the traditional Irish grill to occasional.
Ellen Roche owns Nutri Vive. They hold private clinics throughout Leinster. For consultations and seminars, contact the office (087) 680 2248 www.nutrivive.ie