Following the release of the World Health Organization’s report on eating processed and red meat, we should start off by saying: There is no single food that CAUSES cancer! In diet, moderation is everything and it is important to maintain a balance of nutrients.
Red meat is an important source of iron, zinc and B vitamins. With that said, the evidence that eating red and processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer is more than convincing. Processing and cooking meat leads to the formation of harmful compounds, similar to those found in air pollution. Studies show that if you eat 50g of processed meat (which is less than one sausage) a day for the rest of your life your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) goes up by 18%. Similarly, if you were to eat 100g of red meat a day (which is the weight of a small filet steak) your risk of CRC would increase by 17%. On average, we should consume no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day and thankfully the UK average is currently below this…phew!
The WHO report does not tell people to stop eating meat altogether, but says that eating just a little less can be beneficial to health and reduce the overall risk of cancer. The big news is that the WHO now classifies eating processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen, which is the same classification as tobacco smoking or asbestos exposure. This does NOT mean that meat and asbestos are equally carcinogenic but that the evidence that processed meat is carcinogenic is just as convincing as the evidence that asbestos is carcinogenic.
If I eat less meat, how do I know I am getting enough protein?
Our need for protein is actually much lower than you might think. Protein should make up only about 10% of our total energy (calorie) intake. The recommended daily amount of protein is approximately 45g for females and 56g for males. In the UK average intake of protein is 64g in women and 88g in men, so we can safely say we are NOT at risk of having too little protein. The biggest sources of protein in our diets are firstly meat and meat products, followed by cereals and cereal products and thirdly dairy and dairy products. Therefore it is also not surprising that even vegetarians and vegans eat above the recommended amount. More importantly, we should make sure that we are having complete proteins.
What is a complete protein?
Our bodies (including muscles, hormones, antibodies) are made of protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and there are 9 that are referred to as essential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by our bodies so we have to get them from our diet. Different foods contain different combinations of essential amino acids, and we can refer to a protein as complete when it contains an adequate proportion of all 9 essential amino acids. Animal sources of protein (e.g. meat, fish, egg, dairy) are complete sources of protein, however, vegetarian protein sources (e.g. beans, grains, vegetables) are not. Therefore, if you are on a plant-based diet, it is important that you combine different plant sources of protein and that way you can ensure you are getting everything you need. For example, beans & grains or lentils & rice (as traditionally eaten in India) complement each other’s amino acid profiles. You can try having less red and processed meat products in your diet by substituting them with healthier alternatives. Below are some examples of healthy protein sources.
Why we could all do with a little less meat…
- High meat consumption has been associated with increased risk of developing CRC.
- Meat is often high in saturated fats associated with cardiovascular diseases and some cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
- Animals are inefficient in converting plant protein into energy and can take up to 12 kg of grain to produce just 1 kg of beef.
- The United Nations estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 % of all global greenhouse gas emission!
Are you a massive meat eater? Don’t worry! No one is asking you to convert to vegetarianism.
The smallest changes in your lifestyle can have a huge impact on your health and our lovely planet. Here are some tips:
- Halve your meat portion and fill your plate with more whole grains and vegetables.
- Have meat-free days once a week.
- Cook your meat in stews, soups and bakes and you won’t feel the need to use that much meat.
- Add beans and pulses to your plate, and we guarantee you will not need as much meat.
- Try a mushroom steak! Grilled, baked or fried, mushrooms such as portobello are a great substitute to meat and they are a great source of vitamin D and B-vitamins.
- Think outside the box! Insects are thought to be the future of sustainable protein. For example crickets are super nutritious and provide you with twice the amount of protein as beef per 100g. Did you know: it takes 12.5 times less feed to produce 1lb of crickets than to produce 1lb of beef? You can purchase products made with cricket flour. Find out more here.
Last week we tried cricket flour protein CROBARS for the first time. Our verdict: YUM!