Red meat chop! Why you should limit your meat intake this Easter

The timing of this writing could have come a little more in handy had it been done earlier because most of us have already kicked off preparations for their Easter family feast.

There has been for the longest time we can remember terrifying reports about red meat and its connection with cancer.

According to an Oxford University research on half a million people found that eating red meat just once a day increased the risk of bowel cancer by a fifth.

Even those who stick to the current recommended a limit of 70g a day equivalent to a rather paltry third of an 8oz steak or two rashers of bacon still had a 20 per cent higher chance of developing colon cancer than those who ate about 20g a day.

For those of us making weekend plans for a naughty fry up, traditional roast lamb or goat ribs, or Easter Saturday barbecue it was enough to make you choke on your hot cross bun.

The link between meat and cancer is not a new one in 2015, the World Health Organisation triggered a global panic when it classified processed meats as a group 1 carcinogen, alongside arsenic, alcohol and asbestos.

Though much of the evidence so far has been based on association rather than a proven cause, scientists believe the link is down to a compound in red meat called haem, which reacts with cells in the gut causing DNA damage.

In processed meat such as bacon, ham and sausages, the preservatives used to extend shelf life and enhance taste have been shown to be cancer-causing and, here, the evidence is stronger.

And of course, it’s not just bowel cancer: a 2017 study in the British Medical Journal linked meat consumption with a raised risk of dying from a range of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The bombardment of health and environmental warnings about meat has prompted many to cut down its consumption and eat more vegetarian dinners, yet many struggles to give up steaks completely.

That’s not just because of meat’s taste, but its unparalleled ability to fill them up. Yet the amount that’s considered safe to eat appears to be shrinking all the time.

So is it still possible to enjoy the pleasures of a carnivorous diet without dooming oneself to an early grave?

Meat-eating is great in the African tradition, a food that symbolises celebration, community and conviviality perhaps more than any other, it gathers people together for a celebration at joints across cities and homesteads alike.

It’s worth remembering, in this age of the vegan sausage roll, that red meat that’s beef, lamb, pork, veal, venison and goat is a highly nutritious food.

Along with protein and vitamin D, it’s a particularly good source of iron and vitamin B12, important for energy and a healthy nervous system.

Studies show that a worrying number of British girls and young women are deficient in iron and B12 due in part to the movement towards vegetarianism and veganism, and red meat becoming unpopular.

There’s no need to go completely vegetarian if you don’t want to, but we should all be aiming to make two-thirds of our diet plant-based, and stick to the recommended piece of meat a day.

Studies such as the National Diet and Nutrition Survey suggest the average woman in the UK abides by this recommended limit, but men continue to exceed it, with those aged 64 the worst offenders, and showing no signs of cutting down.

If you’re having meat every now and then, along with lots of fibre and fruit and veg and whole grains, then that will be a lot better for you than a wholly plant-based diet with lots of cheese and processed foods.

This is not a suggestion that we need to stop eating meat altogether, It’s all about doing it in moderation, it’s always recommended that one does no more than 500g of cooked red meat per week.

Meat is just one factor influencing the risk of bowel cancer, along with alcohol and smoking, for example.

If one wants to keep eating meat, the advice is to choose high quality, lean cuts to reduce the amount of saturated fat, and cook from scratch as much as possible, making your own burgers and meatballs.

Other ways to minimise the health risks of meat include avoiding cooking at high temperatures such as barbecuing as some studies show this increases the rate of cancer-causing compounds.

Regardless of all these and as I understand the whole matter, when it comes to good hard science and randomised trials, there is no evidence against red meat the only possible evidence is against processed red meat because of all the additives.

So there’s this generic idea that all meat is bad, without looking at the differences between meat from animals on a local farm that has been reared wholly on the grass and the very industrialised stuff.

Rather than cutting out whole food groups, lets simply eat food as close to its natural form as possible, and to eat local and seasonal.

So whatever your plans for the Easter weekend, there’s no need to deprive yourself of a serving of a well-sourced, well-cooked leg of lamb.

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