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Dietitians Dish: Cut back on red meat intake to reduce risk of cancer

By By Linda Crisp
Feb. 14, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 13, 2012 at 8:14 p.m.

Linda Crisp

Since we are deep in the heart of Texas where cattle is king, I am rarely asked if we should restrict our intake of red meat.

Most of us are not interested in hearing anything except, "sure, go ahead and eat a bunch."

However, the evidence from American Institute for Cancer Research second expert report on Cancer Prevention, published in 2007, is that there is a strong connection between red meat intake and colon cancer. Red meat includes beef, pork and lamb - foods like hamburgers, steak, pork chops and (gasp) barbecue brisket.

The recommendation from the report states that to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, eat no more than 18 ounces (cooked weight) per week of red meats and avoid processed meat, such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and sausages.

The report's Continuous Update Project keeps an eye on research published since 2007, and has not changed its recommendations based on new reports.

The reason for the connection between red meat intake and colon cancer is not yet clear. The link between processed meats and colorectal and stomach cancer is likewise unknown, but is thought to be due in part to the nitrites, which are added to these meats to prevent contamination with pathogenic bacteria, and to maintain the color of the meat.

In January, the American Cancer Society published their updated guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention and included the warnings about high red meat intake and processed meats in their update.

This is unwelcome news to those of us who enjoy our red meat and who like to eat and cook with bacon, ham or sausage. We find hot dogs an easy and inexpensive meal that is kid friendly and smoked deer or pork sausage is common in our part of the country.

I am usually realistic when giving advice on decreasing these foods in the diet.

Here are a few practical suggestions:• Plan more meals with fish, poultry, and dried beans and peas as protein sources.

• Choose processed meats once a month instead of two or three times a week, and in smaller serving sizes.

• Pack chicken salad, sliced turkey, or tuna salad sandwiches instead of processed meat sandwiches.

• Serve a few small pieces of sausage as part of a healthy meal including fresh slaw, fruit salad, baked sweet potato and a whole-wheat roll.

• Save hot dogs for a special occasion, instead of fixing them frequently.

• Have some other quick supper ideas ready, such as spaghetti, grilled tomato and cheese sandwiches, vegetable omelets or pancakes with fruit.

Cutting back on red meat and processed meats this year is an excellent way to improve your health and the health of your family.

Linda Crisp is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian who is a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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