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Red Meat for Health: A Recent WHO/IARC Ruling

Red Meat for Health: A Recent WHO/IARC Ruling

You may have read articles or heard stories about the recent World Health Organization (WHO)’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) ruling on red meat. Unfortunately, the ruling stirred up quite a bit of fear and panic, so let’s go through what the IARC is, what the ruling means, and what actions should be taken for nutrition and health.

What’s the IARC and what does this have to do with red and processed meat?

IARC is part of the World Health Organization and three times a year, IARC forms working groups to evaluate how something (like certain occupational chemicals, foods, or even the sun) impacts the risk of cancer in people.

This quarter, they reviewed red and processed meat and released their report, classifying red meat as ‘Group 2A’ and processed meat as ‘Group 1’ (more on the classification definitions here).

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What do these classifications mean?

Group 1 is defined as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ and Group 2A is defined as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’

IARC specifies that its classifications “do not measure the likelihood that cancer will occur (technically called “risk”) as a result of exposure to the agent.” The classifications also don’t capture consideration of quantity- for example, alcohol and sunlight are both Group 1.

It’s well established that overexposure to (or overconsumption of) both sunlight and alcohol comes with major health risks. That doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits to moderate levels of exposure (hello vitamin D!) to things like sunlight. Dr. Roger Clemens, a noted toxicologist points out the need to put IARC’s ruling in perspective:

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“These rulings discuss hazard, but they’re reported as risk. For example, sunlight (hazard) is needed for vitamin D synthesis, yet excessive exposure increases one’s risk of skin cancer. Alcohol is a known liver toxin (hazard), yet when consumed in moderation (exposure) it reduces risk of developing adverse cardiovascular events.  There are many more examples like these. The Lancet article is clear that the evidence is weak or inconsistent. Importantly, IARC notes that its role is to identify hazard, not causality.”

How does this impact my diet?

Meat can certainly be part of a healthful, balanced diet, and the key is moderation. Just like sun exposure, too much may increase your health risks, but too little can leave you missing valuable nutrients. At this point, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans haven’t issued recommendations for quantity of meat in the diet. However, the Guidelines have encouraged lean proteins, along with whole grains and vegetables, for a healthful balanced diet. Keep your plate balanced, and be sure to watch your portion sizes.

What is a correct portion size?

The right portion size is a cooked 3-ounce serving of lean beef—about the size of a standard deck of playing cards. Of course, total calories, protein, and other nutrients will differ based on the type of meat. There are more than 30 cuts of lean meat in grocery stores; find your favorite, and enjoy with portion sizes in mind!

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It’s important to remember that there’s a lot of variety within ‘processed meats’ too – it’s worth the time to check the nutrition info on your food to scope out the valuable stuff (Protein! Vitamins!) and make sure it fits in your calorie budget. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report included 3 USDA dietary patterns, which suggest the amount of food to meet recommended nutrient intakes at various calorie levels. The 2000 calorie diet includes recommendations for 12.5 ounces of meat (or equivalent) per week, approximately 4 servings, to meet nutrient needs.

What are some nutritional benefits of eating red meat?

Turns out, there are many benefits of eating red meat. Up first: protein.

Lean red meat is one of the best protein sources that we can eat, containing roughly 21-25g per 3 ounce serving. The protein found in red meat, as with all other animal products, is considered a complete protein source. This means that it provides our bodies with all the essential amino acids in the right amounts. Protein is not just associated with building bigger muscles- it also is responsible for the growth and repair of all our tissues, organs, and bones. Proteins facilitates the transportation of oxygen and nutrients through our bloodstream and across cell membranes. Proteins are essential for DNA replication, which is important for cellular turnover, and are key components of your immune system, which is critical for fighting disease! Protein also plays an important role in weight loss and weight maintenance as it contributes to the feeling of being full.

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Red meat also contains a variety of highly bioavailable nutrients, including heme iron, zinc, and B-vitamins. Studies have shown that heme iron and zinc from animal sources are more easily transported across the membranes in our gut, aiding in the absorption of these minerals. This means that we get more bang for our buck in terms of iron and zinc from red meat. Iron is necessary for red blood cell health, oxygen transport, enzyme production, and mental development.

Zinc, on the other hand, plays an important role in boosting immune function, regulating hormones, and healing wounds. The high riboflavin content of red meat further facilitates the proper storage and facilitation of iron in our bodies. Additionally, red meat is a source of a variety of antioxidants, such as carnosine, anserine, and lipoic acid among others. These antioxidants protect against cellular damage and decrease the risk of excessive inflammation.

So what does this all mean and what should you do moving forward?

Bottom line, meat is an excellent source of protein and other important nutrients we are lacking in our diets. It packs a great nutritional punch. By controlling portion sizes and choosing lean cuts, red and processed meat can be part of a healthful diet.

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

When it comes to living long, genes aren’t everything. Research has revealed a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make that could help to extend your life, and some of them may surprise you.

So, how to live longer? Here are 21 ways to help you live a long life

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers your blood pressure, both of which contribute to heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease–the top worldwide cause of death.

2. Drink in Moderation

I know you’re probably picturing a glass of red wine right now, but recent research suggests that indulging in one to three glasses of any type of alcohol every day may help to increase longevity.[1] Studies have found that heavy drinkers as well as abstainers seem to have a higher risk of early mortality than moderate drinkers.

3. Reduce Stress in Your Life

Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. At high levels, this hormone can increase blood pressure and cause storage of abdominal fat, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

4. Watch Less Television

A 2008 study found that people who watch six hours of television per day will likely die an average of 4.8 years earlier than those who don’t.[2] It also found that, after the age of 25, every hour of television watched decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes.

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Television promotes inactivity and disengagement from the world, both of which can shorten your lifespan.

5. Eat Less Red Meat

Red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.[3] Swapping out your steaks for healthy proteins, like fish, may help to increase longevity.

If you can’t stand the idea of a steak-free life, reducing your consumption to less than two to three servings a week can still incur health benefits.

6. Don’t Smoke

This isn’t exactly a revelation. As you probably well know, smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer.

7. Socialize

Studies suggest that having social relationships promotes longevity.[4] Although scientists are unsure of the reasons behind this, they speculate that socializing leads to increased self esteem as well as peer pressure to maintain health.

8. Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease[5] and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.[6] Salmon and walnuts are two of the best sources of Omega-3s.

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9. Be Optimistic

Studies suggest that optimists are at a lower risk for heart disease and, generally, live longer than pessimists.[7] Researchers speculate that optimists have a healthier approach to life in general–exercising more, socializing, and actively seeking out medical advice. Thus, their risk of early mortality is lower.

10. Own a Pet

Having a furry-friend leads to decreased stress, increased immunity, and a lessened risk of heart disease.[8] Depending on the type of pet, they can also motivate you to be more active.

11. Drink Coffee

Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and longer life.[9] Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, coffee’s high levels of antioxidants may play a role. Remember, though, drowning your cup of joe in sugar and whipped cream could counter whatever health benefits it may hold.

12. Eat Less

Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, and the longest lived of the Japanese–the natives of the Ryukyu Islands–stop eating when they’re 80% full. Limiting your calorie intake means lower overall stress on the body.

13. Meditate

Meditation leads to stress reduction and lowered blood pressure.[10] Research suggests that it could also increase the activity of an enzyme associated with longevity.[11]

Taking as little as 15 minutes a day to find your zen can have significant health benefits, and may even extend your life.

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How to meditate? Here’re 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

14. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight puts stress on your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart disease.[12] It may also increase the risk of cancer.[13] Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and living a long and healthy life.

15. Laugh Often

Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. High levels of these hormones can weaken your immune system.

16. Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun

Too much time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sun exposure is an excellent way to increase levels of vitamin D, so soaking up a few rays–perhaps for around 15 minutes a day–can be healthy. The key is moderation.

17. Cook Your Own Food

When you eat at restaurants, you surrender control over your diet. Even salads tend to have a large number of additives, from sugar to saturated fats. Eating at home will enable you to monitor your food intake and ensure a healthy diet.

Take a look at these 14 Healthy Easy Recipes for People on the Go and start to cook your own food.

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18. Eat Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a central ingredient in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s GOMBS disease fighting diet. They boost the immune system and may even reduce the risk of cancer.[14]

19. Floss

Flossing helps to stave off gum disease, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer.[15]

20. Eat Foods Rich in Antioxidants

Antioxidants fight against the harmful effects of free-radicals, toxins which can cause cell damage and an increased risk of disease when they accumulate in the body. Berries, green tea and broccoli are three excellent sources of antioxidants.

Find out more antiosidants-rich foods here: 13 Delicious Antioxidant Foods That Are Great for Your Health

21. Have Sex

Getting down and dirty two to three times a week can have significant health benefits. Sex burns calories, decreases stress, improves sleep, and may even protect against heart disease.[16] It’s an easy and effective way to get exercise–so love long and prosper!

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Featured photo credit: Sweethearts/Patrick via flickr.com

Reference

[1] Wiley Online Library: Late‐Life Alcohol Consumption and 20‐Year Mortality
[2] BMJ Journals: Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis
[3] Arch Intern Med.: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
[4] PLOS Medicine: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review
[5] JAMA: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
[6] NCBI: Effects of Omega‐3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases: Summary
[7] Mayo Clinic Proc: Prediction of all-cause mortality by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Optimism-Pessimism Scale scores: study of a college sample during a 40-year follow-up period.
[8] Med Hypotheses.: Pet ownership protects against the risks and consequences of coronary heart disease.
[9] The New England Journal of Medicine: Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
[10] American Journal of Hypertension: Blood Pressure Response to Transcendental Meditation: A Meta-analysis
[11] Science Direct: Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators
[12] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[13] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[14] African Journal of Biotechnology: Anti-cancer effect of polysaccharides isolated from higher basidiomycetes mushrooms
[15] Science Direct: Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study
[16] AHA Journals: Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease

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