- RED and PROCESSED meat is carcinogenic.
- RED meat is high in saturated fats and causes heart disease.
In recent years, there have been claims that red meat is unhealthy and potentially cancerous, which caused many countries to advocate limiting red meat consumption for better health. The background behind such claims is the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) statement that consuming red and processed meat contributes to colon cancer (see here.
Subsequent studies like this one have called into question the validity of the WHO study based on several shortcomings, such as the fact that the WHO recommendations are primarily based on observational studies and do not consider many critical factors, such as other dietary habits of the subjects.
As mentioned in our previous blogs, most studies used an ‘average Joe’, who may not be health conscious or savvy. The average consumer buys their meat in a supermarket because it’s cheaper, not realising that the steak is usually grain fed (thus containing more inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids and saturated fats), treated with antibiotics and potentially some hormones too!
A popular way to consume meat is to chargrill it, usually with the help of harmful hydrogenated seed/vegetable oils, then add a dollop of sugary sauce, a side of fries and a schooner of beer. In this scenario, it’s hard to tell whether cancer is caused by meat consumption, excessive intake of alcohol, seed oils, chemicals and additives, a sedentary lifestyle, or a combination of all these factors. It really depends on what kind of red meat you choose, how you prepare it, how much of it you eat, and what you eat and drink alongside it.
Why processed meat is potentially carcinogenic
The main reason processed meat is considered carcinogenic is the presence of certain additives and chemicals and the processing methods involved. Here are a few key factors:
Nitrates and Nitrites:
Processed meats often contain added nitrates and nitrites, which serve as preservatives to enhance flavour, prevent bacterial growth, and give cured meats their characteristic pink colour. During digestion, nitrates and nitrites can form nitrosamines, known carcinogens, and are linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.
High Cooking Temperature:
Many processed meats, such as grilling, frying, or smoking, are cooked at high temperatures. These cooking methods can lead to the formation of potentially carcinogenic compounds, including heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). As mentioned earlier, HCAs and PAHs can cause DNA damage and increase cancer risk.
Processed meats often contain various chemical additives, such as sodium nitrite, sodium erythorbate, and various flavour enhancers. While these additives are generally considered safe when consumed in moderation, certain compounds formed during processing or cooking, such as nitrosamines, can have carcinogenic properties.
What about saturated fats?
Grass-fed meat has less saturated and more polyunsaturated fats (essential fats such as Omega 3). In this study, grass-fed beef showed greater levels of trans-vaccenic acid and long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA; EPA, DPA, DHA) than grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef also contains an increased level of total n-3 PUFA, thus offering more health benefits than grain-fed. The findings signify that grass-fed beef could exert protective effects against several diseases ranging from cancer to cardiovascular disease, as evidenced by the increased functional omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and decreased undesirable saturated fats.
Where do Chief products fit in this?
Chief products definitely don’t fall under the carcinogenic category because all our products are made from organic grass-fed and grass-finished beef, with no nitrates and artificial additives. Furthermore, don’t confuse biltong for jerky. Our meat is air-dried and not heated; therefore, there are no carcinogenic compounds, and all the nutrients that are usually damaged by heat are also preserved.
Why should you eat red meat?
Iron and vitamin B12 insufficiency are rising among Australians, particularly young women. Yes, plant sources can contain Iron (although the bioavailability and absorption are not as strong). However, natural vitamin B12 can only be found in animal food sources. Iron and Vitamin B12 are essential for your health, playing an important role in your energy levels and metabolism.Need more convincing? 100g of raw beef also contains 32% of the recommended daily allowance of zinc and other essential nutrients. Furthermore, red meat is a complete and high source of protein that is easy to digest and contains all the essential amino acids you need for good health and physical performance.
Our guidelines for healthy red meat consumption
Avoid processed meat:
Minimise salami, sausages and bacon and opt for a good quality steak from your local butcher or clean products like our Chief Beef Bars and Biltong. Although it’s more expensive per kilogram, you will actually save money… on your health. They say you can spend your money with the farmer or big pharma!
Know where your meat comes from:
Ask your butcher if your meat is grass-fed AND grass-finished. Try to opt for grass-fed meat (ideally grass-finished too) – it has the correct ratio of Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, with no antibiotics and hormones added, and it’s lower in saturated fats.
If you can buy organic, which is also grass-finished (like our Chief Beef Bars and Biltong), even better, but not all organic meat products are grass-finished. Local butchers will be able to tell you exactly where the meat came from; they’re also more likely to have fresher, better quality meat from environmentally friendly farms.
Control your portions:
Aim for 80g of uncooked (or 65g cooked) red meat per serving – this is why our Chief Beef Bars and Biltong are the sizes they are. We start with 80g of raw steak, which is dried to create a 40g bar in an ideal portion.
Restaurants will generally serve at least 250g, which is over 3x of the recommended amount. Red meat is healthy when enjoyed in smaller amounts. Like dark chocolate, one square a day is healthy; a whole block a day is a ‘nutritional disaster’.
Preparation is key:
Except for air drying (how our Chief Beef Bars and Biltong are made), slow cooking and pressure cooking are by far the healthiest methods for cooking red meat. The lower temperature preserves vitamins (particularly B vitamins) and minerals without producing carcinogenic compounds. Stewing is also an option, although some vitamins can be damaged if you stew meat for too long at a high temperature. If you are in a hurry, quick pan-frying using a non-stick pan and a little spray-on oil is also relatively healthy.
If you really want to grill or broil (hey, it tastes good!), avoid char-grilling, as the compounds produced by cooking at high temperatures and by blackening the meat are inflammatory and carcinogenic. When grilling meat:
- Line the grill with foil or wrap the food in foil.
- Marinate your meat in homemade marinades free of chemicals and added sugar (olive oil, lemon juice and herbs of choice are perfect)
- Don’t burn or chargrill your steak.
- If you must use oil, choose olive, coconut (or any other nut), and avoid vegetable and seed oils entirely as they’re too high in the inflammatory Omega 6 acids.
Our advice is to try to keep grilling for special occasions only and choose other methods for day-to-day cooking If you want to preserve all vitamins and minerals and avoid harmful by-products of cooking, have your meat air-dried.
A healthy steak needs a healthy sidekick:
Swap fries for cruciferous veggies to ramp up your fibre intake, phytochemicals, and antioxidants to boost your health and reduce cancer risk. Think cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts as your base, then add any veggies of choice. The more variety, the better your gut microbiome will thank you!
Vitamin C in vegetables also helps your body to absorb Iron. If you want to supercharge your Iron absorption, squeeze lemon on your steak or use fresh lemon/lime juice in dressings and marinades. Foods containing phytates (cereals and grains), calcium (milk and dairy) and polyphenols (tea and coffee) can hinder iron absorption. Don’t avoid these foods, as they are part of a healthy diet but eat them separately from your steak.
Grass-fed meat has less saturated fat
- Unprocessed red meat and processed red meat consumption