Articles for Our Patients ~ American Institue for Cancer Research

Beat the Summer Heat without Red Meat

Author: American Institue for Cancer Research • Language: ENG

s the temperature rises, Americans fire up their grills for the ever-popular summertime backyard barbecue. The prospect of higher consumption of red meat and processed meat during cookout season and the recently published landmark AICR report on diet and cancer prevention concludes that diets high in red meat and especially processed meats (such as hot dogs) are now a convincing cause of colorectal cancer.

What Counts as Red Meat?

Traditionally, "red meat" has indicated beef, lamb, pork and veal. Red meat recommendations and study findings are generally based on this traditional definition of red meat. Although pork may look white when cooked, its nutritional composition categorizes it as a red meat. And although venison may be similar to red meats, it is not included in the traditional definition of red meat because it has been considered wild game.

What Is the Risk of Red Meat?

Compared to such clear and compelling risks linking red and processed meat with cancer, the risks associated with the grilling process itself should be of secondary concern. It is clear that grilling animal products (both red and white meat) causes potent carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to arise within food.

These substances have been shown in laboratory experiments to trigger the cancer process. The AICR report concluded that there is limited but suggestive evidence that these substances factor in human cancer, providing one more reason to limit consumption of red and processed meat, however it is cooked.

How Much Is Too Much?

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting red meat to no more than three ounces a day. But the evidence on diets high in processed meat is even more troubling: according to the AICR report’s analysis of the available evidence, every 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of processed meat eaten per day increases risk for colorectal cancer by 42 percent. Because of this, AICR now advises avoiding hot dogsalong with sausages, bacon, ham, cold cuts and other processed meats.

Try Grilling Something Different This Summer
Grilling vegetables and fruit produces no HCAs or PAHs, and thus poses no potential cancer risks. Diets high in plant foods are associated with reduced risk of several cancers.

Some classic vegetable choices for grilling include asparagus, corn on the cob, onions, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini and eggplant. Most of these can be grilled whole, as well as chopped and cooked in a grill basket or cut into chunks and skewered to make vegetable kabobs. Brush or toss veggies with a small amount of olive oil and grill at medium-high heat. Most vegetables will be ready after about three to five minutes per side. More dense vegetables like onions, sweet potatoes and eggplant may need double the grill time or more, depending on how large the pieces are. You can even grill vegetables ahead and serve them cold, on their own or in salads. Grilling brings out marvelous flavors in vegetables and will not create the cancer-causing substances that can be formed when meat and poultry are grilled.

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