So it’s official, red and processed meat can cause cancer – as reported by a group of international scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
In the report, processed meats are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, while red meats are branded as a Group 2A probable carcinogen. Because of the reports, fear has set upon meat lovers.
And hang on a second, does this mean tobacco smoking – which is also classified as a Group 1 carcinogen – is as drastic as indulging in your favourite chicken franks?
The IARC merely describes the strength of the scientific evidence as it pertains to a possible cause of cancer. Smoking causes about a million deaths per year, while 34,000 cancer deaths can be linked to processed meat-rich diets.
The findings are definitely not a call for people to boycott red meat and processed meat, as opposed to what many have been driven to concur.
“These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” says IARC Director Christopher Wild. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”
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Back in 2014, Harvard Medical School published a report on man’s favourite food. It talked about juicy steaks, pork chops and lovely racks of lamb – and how they are all going to kill you.
But haven’t we always advocated red meat as a good thing? Is steak not a muscle-building man-food without equal? And what of all the iron, zinc and B vitamins that constitute a vital part of a balanced diet? Is there some dietary scaremongering going on or do we really have to give up bacon?
While most studies and guidelines are based on daily consumption, it is far more realistic to manage your intake on a weekly basis. “The World Cancer Research Fund states that you shouldn’t be eating any more than 500g in a week,” says nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker. To put that into context, you can put away an 8oz steak (227g) a 4oz pork chop (113g), 2 pork sausages (50g each) and a portion of chilli con carne with beef mince (60g). Which is plenty for one week – or one hell of a mixed grill.
But it’s how you consume your fleshy quota that matters to your health. As with booze, as long as you don’t exceed your limit and try not to make a habit of chucking it back every single day, you’re fine. “If you have a big steak on Saturday night that doesn’t mean you can’t have any red meat for the rest of the week,” says Schenker. “But I wouldn’t recommend you eat red meat every day, even in small quantities either.” Enjoy responsibly – but most of all, enjoy.
Also, here’s an extra tip if you’re craving for the red.
You can make it leaner with 20 minutes and a sharp knife.
Compared to chicken, turkey or fish, red meat is not the leanest protein on the supermarket shelves. Your average rib-eye steak, for example, contains 37g of total fat, 15g of which is of the saturated kind that the Harvard Study highlights as responsible for the prevalence of heart disease among their study subjects.
You can keep the fat content down, though. “A fillet steak will have very little fat on it, regardless of where you buy it or how it’s cooked,” says David Lishman, master butcher of award-winning Yorkshire butchers Lishman’s of Ilkley. “It comes from an area of the animal that does very little work, so it’s one of the most tender and leanest cuts there is.” Sirloin, too, cuts a slim figure at only 2g of sat fat, and what marbled fat remains tends to render out during cooking.
“A less well-known option is the ‘onglet’ or skirt steak,” says Lishman. “It is taken from the diaphragm of the cow and is best cooked under the grill until just pink, which allows as much fat as possible to drain off.”
Whichever cut of whatever meat you choose, trimming away as much of the visible fat before you cook it is the best way to reduce the saturated fat content of your meal. You don’t need a masterclass in butchery; just pop your meat in the freezer for twenty minutes. This will harden the fatty tissue slightly, making it far easier to slice away from the meat quickly and neatly.