What the health is a documentary on how meat consumption causes a myriad of diseases including colon cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
A review article I read sums up the red meat and processed meat conundrum very well.
In 2015 a press release was issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the carcinogenicity of red and processed meat consumption. Their review included 800 studies from numerous countries and several continents with a variety of ethnicities and diets.
Red meat was classified as probably carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans (Group 2A) as there was limited proof that red meat consumption was a cause for colon cancer in humans. Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) and there was significant proof that processed meat causes colon cancer in humans (IARC 2015).
In South Africans:
Do we as South Africans need to worry? Many studies are conducted in other countries so how do we apply them to our society?
Well, the 2010 statistics regarding the incidence of colorectal cancers among South Africans by the National Cancer Registry documented the lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer among males was 1 in 114 and 1 in 182 in females.
Over the past 2 decades we have seen rapid economic growth in SA, resulting in the average SA citizen having more income to spend on food, specifically meat, and thus consumption of red meat in SA has risen.
What does Grade 1 classification mean?
The reason why processed meat was classified along with smoking and alcohol consumption does not imply that they are equally carcinogenic. It merely describes the strength of the scientific evidence rather than the level of risk.
Amount of meat consumed in relation to risk:
A meta-analysis of data from 10 studies found that colon cancer risk increased with the amount of red and processed meat consumed. Together, more that 140g of total meat intake increased risk of colon cancer significantly. i.e. take home message don’t eat red meat/ processed meat every day.
Red meat shouldn’t be eaten every day (this we have been saying for years- nothing new). Processed meat is high in saturated fat, nitrates and salt- so naturally the less we consume the better.