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Man vs. Beef: Is Red Meat the New Smoking?

Posted 1/25/2016 by UHBlog

Are you ready to make healthier food choices? We can help.

Man vs. Beef: Is Red Meat the New Smoking?

A group of prominent health professionals has a beef with red meat and processed meat, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can never enjoy another lamb chop.

The International Agency on Research of Cancer – an arm of the World Health Organization – released a document in October 2015 stating there is strong evidence processed meat increases the risk of cancer, and red meat probably increases the risk of cancer.

“It doesn’t establish cause and effect, but simply comments on the association of those two things,” says registered dietitian Lisa Cimperman, MS, RDN, LD. “Findings are grouped by the strength of evidence and not by the degree to which they increase your risk of cancer. That’s why smoking and processed meat get lumped in the same category, even though smoking increases cancer risk significantly more than eating processed meat.”

Processed meat includes any animal product that is chemically altered, such as deli meat, hot dogs or jerky. Red meat encompasses any animal protein that is red when raw, including beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

Cimperman says consumers should use common sense when eating processed or red meat.

“My recommendation is to limit the intake of processed meats because they have high levels of sodium and generally represent fattier meats,” she says.

Cimperman advises individuals who choose to eat red meat to:

  • Stick to leaner cuts that don’t have a great deal of visible fat
  • Limit consumption to two meals per week
  • Keep portion sizes to about four ounces, or roughly the size of the palm of your hand (Larger, active people may eat a slightly larger portion.)
  • Consider meat an accent to your meal, rather than the main dish; fill most of your plate with vegetables and whole grains
  • Be mindful of how you cook meat. Charred meat is a known carcinogen, so avoid flare-ups on the grill. Marinating meat can help cut down on fatty flare-ups. “I also tell people to stay away from frying,” Cimperman says. “Anything else – like the crock pot, roasting or sautéing – are great cooking methods.”
  • Select skinless poultry – such as chicken or turkey – and fish if you prefer getting protein from animal sources. “Fatty fishes, like salmon, have heart-health benefits,” Cimperman says.
  • Go meatless one day a week. Good alternate protein sources include nuts, beans, seeds, eggs, meat substitutes and low-fat dairy products. Many yogurts, for example, are high in protein, low in fat and provide gastrointestinal benefits from live and active cultures.

If the idea of never again sinking your teeth into a juicy steak is unappealing, rest assured that you can enjoy the occasional filet mignon without remorse. Red meat has some redeeming qualities.

“Red meat contains important nutrients,” Cimperman says. “Of course, we know it’s a source of protein, but it’s also a source of iron and B12. It’s not a bad food and it’s nothing you need to cut out completely.”

Lisa Cimperman, MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Cimperman or any other University Hospitals health care professional online.

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