What's got everyone talking in the nutrition world? Meat.
and especially - processed meats.
It's well-established that food processing and food additives can create health hazards, processed meats are no exception.
They've been on Holistic Nutritionists' "fun foods - occasionally" list for a long time. That means we wouldn't recommend that people eat deli meats, pepperoni, or hot dogs on a daily or even weekly basis. If they are on a special or strict program for candida, allergies or compromised digestion, we'd take them off of those foods completely for the term of the program. But generally, a healthy person with a strong digestive system can handle these foods - occasionally in small amounts with no worry. (Balance. One of my core VALUES as a Holistic Nutritionist.) [6 Powerful Nutrition Foundations]
Since the World Health Organization made their announcement about processed meats being cancer causing, its been quite the talk the last while.
Now everyone's talking - because now these foods are in the news.
In food processing practices, processed meats are those preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or the addition of chemical preservatives. This includes bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, pepperoni, hot dogs, some sausages, and hamburgers - if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.
This is different from the salting required for natural fermenting (lacto-fermentation) of vegetables.
From Dr. Mercola's website:
A 2007 analysis by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found that eating just one sausage a day may raise your risk of bowel cancer. Specifically, 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily – about one sausage or three pieces of bacon – was found to raise your likelihood of the cancer by 20 percent.
The American Institute for Cancer Research has long recommended avoiding processed meats entirely for this reason.
The institute explicitly warns that that "there is no safe threshold" for eating processed meats. It also recommends limiting red meat to a maximum of 18 ounces per week, to avoid raising your risk for cancer.
The big nutrition news this October: Processed Meats Now Classified As Group 1 Carcinogen
After reviewing hundreds of studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), also recently concluded that processed meat can cause colorectal cancer in humans classifying it as a Group 1 carcinogen. "IARC classified processed meat as 'carcinogenic to humans' on its group one list along with tobacco and asbestos, for which there is 'sufficient evidence' of cancer links.
Each 50-gram (1.8-ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, the agency estimated. A 50-gram portion would be the equivalent of eating one hot dog or two slices of bacon. Americans eat about 21.7 grams of processed pork per day, according to a 2011 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey."
I live in Canada, so our food is different, right?
Well, actually Canadians and Americans eat a fairly similar diet - one steeped in poor quality fats, fast food, sugar, chemicals and additives and more. So when we read the words "Americans' diet" we can safely assume that includes us as well, especially since so much of our food comes from the US.
Most of us in North America eat way too much meat. Any one who tells you we don't get enough protein does not have the facts straight. A healthy person with a reasonable amount of daily exercise does not need daily meat AND protein shakes in addition to all the other meals in order to reach their daily protein target, unless they are having major digestive issues and cannot process nutrients properly.
Any food that we take in too much of can throw our body out of balance, but excess meat can be a strain on our liver as well as our waist line. It's not a nice image to feel like food that is fed to us is unhealthy, or that its potentially cancer-causing.
That's our world now. We have to look after ourselves, do our research, and "vote with our dollar" by spending our food money wisely.
So, can I still eat meat?
A health officer has been quoted as saying "Nobody is telling people not to eat meat. What they're saying is if you eat it, eat less of it and buy it from sources that have produced it better."
But the problem is that people don't know what that actually means! We see meat in the grocery store as a great source of protein.
We see it as the epitome of health. Often people grow up leaning and seeing meat as a daily necessity. Now that its so easily available in all grocery stores, we eat lots more of it.
- Certain meats can be cheap
- Many more meats are easily available to us
These should not be decision-swayers in our food choices, most of the time. (There are going to be times when they will, occasionally!)
Bottom line: If we are what we eat, we don't want to be either cheap nor easy, now do we?
We don't think about the grocery store chain and how many thousands of pounds of meat across just this province alone that they must need in order to feed us all.
Part of the problem is two-fold. One reason is its likely due to the way the meat was raised.
But, there is also suggestions that the cancer link may actually be due to the way such meats impact your gut flora.
We know that the food our food eats impacts us, but do we know what our food is eating? They aren't roaming around in grassy, dewey pastures unless we pay much more extra. We can find local sources of free-range, organic meat. But its more costly and not ideal for most families.
I firmly believe that vegetarianism is not for everyone (I was vegetarian for one year some years ago - to this day people think I am vegan, but I am not) and that many people do need meat in their diet. Some animal protein is important for health, but there are some cautions.
The way the animal is raised – what the animal eats, where it lives, the drugs it is given, and whether it has access to the outdoors – make a major difference in whether it's a healthy food or a disease-promoting one.
When it comes to meats: "Know your Farmer." I recommend eating organic grass-fed meats only that are also pasture-finished, not grain-finished.
The second factor that can make a big difference in its health potential is how the meat is prepared and cooked.
The processing of meat often involves nitrites that may form cancer-causing compounds that become dangerous once they react with our stomach acid. As a general rule, the longer the meat is cooked and the hotter the temperature, the more bad compounds can be formed. Grilling and frying create the highest amounts of toxic end products. Stewing, steaming, braising, or poaching create the least amounts. This doesn't mean you can NEVER barbecue or fry foods again. It just means eat less of them.
One day you see a Facebook post (or TV ad) calling all bacon lovers to unite, and eat more! The next, warnings that it will take years off your life. Bacon itself has been the victim of repeated criticisms for a few reasons. Mainly because of its saturated fat content, which as we know has long been demonized. We do need saturated fat in our diet. Our brain needs healthy fats, and our body weight requires that we have healthy fats. (Ever tried a low fat diet? Starving and foggy-brained, right?)
If your food is pasture-raised and the animals live in their natural setting eating animal-appropriate food, then animals can certainly and safely be a nutritious part of your diet. When animals are properly raised, naturally, they should be preservative (primarily nitrates) free.
So, the answer to the question is the answer to so many other of our nutritional questions - quality counts. The key is to consider mainly the quality and quantity of the meat, and secondly the way you cook it.
Local Meat Sources
Talk to friends - ask at health food stores - you're bound to find a great resource if you just start asking!
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