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Even Moderate Amount of Red Meat Linked to Cancer, Says Study. Here’s What You Need to Know

Even Moderate Amount of Red Meat Linked to Cancer, Says Study. Here’s What You Need to Know

  • Eating even moderate amounts of red meat and bacon will raise your risk of bowel cancer, a major UK study finds.
  • People who ate 76 grams of red and processed meat a day — roughly equal to a quarter pound beef burger — had a 20 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to those who ate just 21 grams a day.
  • The problem with these types of studies is they rarely take into account factors like where the meat came from and how it was cooked.
  • Protect yourself by following these guidelines: Choose grass-fed beef and pastured bacon, become a semi-vegetarian, calculate your ideal protein intake, and don’t cook your meat at high heat.

Eating even moderate amounts of red meat and bacon will raise your risk of bowel cancer, a major UK study finds.

People who ate 76 grams of red and processed meat a day — equal to a quarter-pound beef burger when cooked — had a 20 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to those who ate just 21 grams a day. 

The UK’s National Health Service suggests anyone who eats more than 90 grams of red meat a day (that’s cooked weight) should cut down to 70 grams or less a day. That’s in line with the American Institute for Cancer Research, which recommends no more than 18 ounces a week (roughly 72 grams a day)

Red meat vs. processed meat

The five-year study looked at half a million men and women between the ages of 40 and 69 as part of the UK Biobank project. It also found that processed meat like bacon and sausages was more harmful than red meat, and the risk increased by 20% for every slice of bacon (around 25 grams), and by 19% with a thick slice of roast beef (that’s around 50 grams).

“A small amount of processed meat seems to have the same effect as a large amount of red meat,” said study co-author Tim Key, deputy director at the University of Oxford’s cancer epidemiology unit.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer among both men and women in the US. The American Cancer Society estimates that roughly 51,000 people will die from colorectal cancer in 2019.

The study found that alcohol also increased the risk of colorectal cancer. The foods that weren’t linked to bowel cancer were fish, poultry, cheese, fruit, vegetables, tea, and coffee.

How to lower your risk

Cows roaming in pasture

Here’s the thing — you don’t need to totally quit red meat (or your beloved bacon) to protect yourself from disease. How you cook your meat and where you source it plays a big role. The problem with these types of studies is they rarely take into account factors like where the meat came from and how it was cooked. There’s a big difference between factory-farmed meat and meat from pasture-raised animals. So do it the Bulletproof way, and follow these guidelines when eating red and processed meat:

  • Pick grass-fed, pastured meat: Always choose grass-fed beef and pastured pork. Feeding animals junk food turns them into junk food. The antibiotics in animal feed is bad news for your gut — they kill your good gut bacteria, allowing the bad bacteria to flourish. Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, is great for you, and one of the healthiest proteins you can eat. Meat from happy cows is full of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, trace minerals, and vitamins. Pastured bacon carries lots of health benefits too, plus it’s lower in nitrosamines, which some studies link to cancer. Learn more about sourcing and cooking bacon here.
  • Save your money: Spend the same amount of money on grass-fed meat that you would on factory-farmed meat, and eat less of it. If that’s not doable, become a part-time vegetarian, and only eat grass-fed and pastured meat on occasion.
  • Size matters: Make meat a small fraction of your meals. When looking at your plate, 80% of it should be vegetables, rounded out with just 2-4 oz of a high-quality protein like grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish. You can also calculate your idea protein intake based on your body weight, and aim for 0.4 grams of protein for each pound that you weigh. A 120-lb. woman, for instance, would eat 48 grams a day.
  • Cooking method: Don’t burn your bacon till it’s crispy. Instead, bake or fry it at a low temperature (under 300 degrees) until it’s medium to well done. That’ll stop inflammatory and oxidized fats from forming. Learn more about Bulletproof cooking methods and temperatures here.

Read next: The Best Healthy Sources of Protein

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