So should you stop eating red and processed meat? The answer is all about the dreaded, boring M word – moderation.
Originally shared by Buddhini Samarasinghe
Red meat and cancer risk
The news is awash with stories about how red and processed meats have been classified as carcinogens in the same category as tobacco. But what exactly does this mean? Let’s unpick this a little bit before throwing out the bacon with the bathwater.
There have been several excellent bits of writing that explain what this means – the first is by Ed Yong (http://goo.gl/br9OU7) and the second by CRUK* (http://goo.gl/ELDzCI). These are well-worth a read if you want to learn more.
Basically, the key bit of information to remember is that this is not a risk assessment, it is a hazard identification. A great analogy (stolen from the CRUK article above) is to think of banana skins – they definitely can cause accidents, but in practice it doesn’t happen very often, and isn’t as severe as being in a car accident. But under the hazard identification approach, banana skins and cars would be in the same category because they both definitely cause accidents. The severity of the accident is not discussed, and that’s where we tend to get lost with the breathless press releases on this topic.
So should you stop eating red and processed meat? The answer is all about the dreaded, boring M word – moderation. If you’re always eating red and processed meat, over years and years, then that’s probably not good for you. But meat in moderation (i.e. not too much and not too often) is still okay, and is definitely not as bad as smoking is. The thing with diet and disease is that reality is often rather boring; there are no miracle diets or magical juice cleansers that will give you eternal youth. There are no superfoods that offset the damage of binge-drinking every weekend. That’s just not how our bodies work.
What you can do to prevent cancer is eat plenty of fruit and veg with lots of fibre while cutting back on things like alcohol, salt, red and processed meats. And definitely avoid sunburns and smoking.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I work at the charity CRUK as a science communicator.