Do Meat Eaters Get More Cancer?

One of the leading causes of human deaths, cancer affects millions of people every year. Various factors can lead to cancer such as inherited genetic mutations, hormones, smoking, alcohol, exposure to cancer causing materials, inflammation, viral or bacterial infection and radiation. A number of studies have suggested that eating habits can also influence the risk of getting cancer. It is generally considered that people on vegetarian diet have less risk of cancer in comparison to meat eaters. To understand whether meat eaters get more cancer, here are some important things to consider.

Red meat primary suspect – Red meat includes lamb, beef, goat, pork, venison and kangaroo. Red meat contains haem iron, which is what gives meat its signature red color. While iron is necessary for human body, haem iron may end up damaging the protective layer of the bowel. That is because haem iron gets broken down into N-nitroso compounds, which are considered harmful.

A recent study involving data of more than 472,000 participants showed that vegetarians have 14% less risk of cancer in comparison to meat eaters. Fish eaters had 10% less risk, whereas occasional meat eaters had 2% less risk of cancer. The cancers that were found among the study group included prostate cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

Processed meat – A significant percentage of meat items are sold in processed forms. It involves methods like salting, curing, smoking and using preservatives like nitrates and nitrites. In the gut, the preservatives are converted into N-nitroso compounds. These can trigger cancerous growth or work as one of the several factors that can lead to cancer.

High temperature – The way meat is cooked can also influence the risk of cancer. For example, cooking the meat at high heat can result in cancer causing chemical compounds. This is why nutritionists recommend to avoid burning and charring the meat. Cooking the meat at lower temperatures can possibly reduce the production of cancer-causing chemicals.

Eating too much red meat – This is another factor that can increase the risk of cancer. You can continue eating red meat, but try to reduce the amount you consume every day. According to leading cancer organizations, red meat consumption should be reduced to around 455 grams (cooked) per week.

Also, it is recommended to completely avoid processed meat. If you are experiencing cravings, you can try substituting red meat with relatively healthier options such as chicken, fish and eggs. Vegetarian foods high in protein such as chickpeas, tofu, nuts and seeds can also be considered.

If you are at risk of cancer, it would be better to increase vegetarian food items in your diet. Fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, etc. will ensure adequate fiber intake. Vegetarian food items are filled with phytochemicals, which have anti-inflammatory property. Vegetarian items with fiber add bulk to your diet, which ensures optimal bowel movement. These factors help reduce the risk of cancer.

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