Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sobering Facts About Red Meat

Anyone who has spent any time with me knows that I am not a big fan of red meat. I grew up with a pasture full of cows, a freezer full of meat, countless dinners of hamburgers and steak. Some would consider us a very lucky household; that is, until my dad became gravely ill with colon cancer at the young age of 46. He was VERY lucky indeed, in that although the tumor was malignant AND roughly the size of a grapefruit, the cancer had not spread to any other organ and he was able to recover without chemo or radiation. He has been cancer-free for over 20 years.

Being the offspring of a first degree relative who has had colon cancer means that I have to undergo a colonoscopy every five years. At least that was the recommendation two years ago, at which point, a polyp was discovered during the procedure and now I am on the "two year plan." But I'm OK with that. I remember my dad's illness as if it was yesterday. I recall how sick he was in the hospital bed, how pale and listless he looked to me. He still loves to show off his scar which absolutely sends me into shudders.

I stopped eating red meat regularly in college. I knew that there is a direct correlation between red meat and colon cancer and even the site of a steak was enough to take me back to that time when my dad was so ill.

Recently, my doctor told me that my iron was too low and rather than augment my diet with an iron supplement, she preferred that I have at least one serving a red meat a week. I started buying the Raley's/Bel Aire "Full Circle" brand of hamburger. The package states that it is organic, antibiotic free and 90% lean. And let me tell you, it is really, really good. One hamburger a week turned into two. Then an article came out in this week's Sac Bee that caused me to take a careful look at my own red meat consumption.

You can pull up the article in its entirety from the Sunday, May 17th Health issue. Let me give you the gist of it...

Now a new study of almost 550,000 American has provided the best evidence yet that our affinity for red meat has exacted a hefty price on our health and limited our longevity. The study found that, other things being equal, the men and women who consumed the most red and processed meat were likely to die sooner, especially from one of our two leading killers, heart disease and cancer, than people who consumed much smaller amounts of these foods.

Results of the decade long study were published in the March issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. During the study, nearly 71,000 of the participants died and the researchers kept track of the timing and the reasons for each death.

The findings suggest that over the course of a decade, the deaths of 1 million men and perhaps a half-million women could be prevented by simply eating less red and processed meats.

The recommended allowance is as follows: people should a small hamburger only once or twice a week, a small steak no more than once a week and a hot dog every month and a half.

This last bit of info is a lot to digest, particularly if you have a small child, like mine, who loves his daily hot dog and a mom who loves her big, organic hamburgers.

The article went on to underscore the environmental impact of our dependence on livestock, which, as we all know, is not good. Erosion process, applied pesticides, consumed antibiotics and discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water; in a nutshell: yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck.

To make things even worse, once meat is cooked at high temperatures, carcinogens can form on the surface of the meat and increased consumption of carcinogens is definitely a direct tie-in to higher rates of cancer.

There are many, many sources of protein and iron that are not in the red meat family. If you must have that weekly hamburger, try to choose an antibiotic free label of meat and on the days that you don't eat meat, utilize poultry, seafood, and beans to fulfill protein needs. If your children love hot dogs, try and offer them as a treat rather than a mainstay.

Also good to know: if you have a first-degree relative who has had colon cancer, your check-ups (and I'm talking full-blown colonoscopy here) should begin ten years prior to the age that the parent was when initially diagnosed. My dad was 46; thus I began my colonoscopy regime at age 36. And I'm glad I did...even one polyp is a little too dicey for my comfort level. But not quite enough to get me to give up my weekly hamburger!

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