Can Red Meat Give You Cancer?


As someone who has eaten both a mixed diet and a fully plant-based diet (vegan), I was very interested to know the impact my eating habits were having on my long-term health and on my fitness lifestyle, as my vocation relies on it.


Considering I have previously eat a diet containing large amounts of red meat, I am sure it will come as a surprise to some that for the majority of 2015, I was vegan. This decision was based on evidence strong enough for me to deem it unquestionably a better dietary choice for my long-term health.


In the fitness and bodybuilding industry, a lot of emphasis is put on protein intake and especially on meat (including red meat). Following the recent claims by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that red meat will increase your risk of various types of cancer, a lot of people are talking about whether we should be cutting this out of our diets.


Whilst the short answer is yes, we must take the time to understand exactly what was found, by who and what it means.


The research was carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and presented to the WHO. A large sample size of studies was used (800+) to ensure findings were the best representation over the overall population. Click the link to the study below:

They also concluded that the main issue here is processed red meat, which includes products that have been smoked, fermented, cured, salted or transformed. Here are just a few:

  • Ham
  • Bacon
  • Salami
  • Hotdogs
  • Fast food burger meat
  • Turkey bacon
  • Jerky
  • Canned meats

These have been classified as Group 1 items – or “carcinogenic to humans” – as evidence and links back to cancer have been strong enough to make this claim. However unprocessed red meat falls one category below into Group 2A – “Probably Carcinogenic to humans” – as evidence in humans is still limited.

food groups IMAGE SOURCE:


The conclusion I have come to after reading this and other studies is that a diet free of processed red meat and with minimal or no red meat would be best. This meaning I will have to expand my source of protein to include some more plant based foods, while increasing the amount of organic chicken and fish I eat. However, taking into consideration my lifestyle and goals, this is the way I have decided to structure my diet (I am not advising you follow this diet, only that these are the choices I have made):


  • Monday to Friday; all my meals are made up of plant-based foods, organic chicken and fish.
  • At the weekend I allow myself one portion of red meat which is unprocessed (if desired).
  • At weekends, I allow myself one portion of processed red meat. However, it is my goal to over time to replace this with an unprocessed source of red meat.
  • I am currently down to one serving of processed red meat every four weeks, with a goal of reducing it further.

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