London, UK (BBN)-We are constantly being told by health charities and some nutritionists that too much red meat causes bowel cancer.
Indeed, the Department of Health warns committed carnivores to cut down to 70g a day, reports the Daily Mail.
But meat has been unfairly demonised, according to Roger Leicester, Director of Endoscopy at St George’s Hospital and director of the SW London Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.
In fact, Leicester, who is also a former secretary of the British Society of Gastroenterology, says cutting out red meat is known to cause iron deficiency.
Here, he explains why chocolate – full of sugar and fat – is a more likely cancer-causing culprit-
The next time you feel guilty about chomping on a juicy steak, don’t.
I say this because there has been no clear published evidence to implicate lean red meat in causing cancer – despite the constant warnings from charities and scientists.
In fact, in my opinion, chocolate could be more of a danger.
Very high intakes of sugar and saturated fat are much more of a problem, but no one ever suggests we should give up chocolate, which is laden with sugar loaded with fat.
That would be too unpopular.
Man is an omnivore.
Red meat is very much part of my diet, and I eat it four or five times a week.
You can’t beat a good steak, or a Sunday roast beef, and a bacon butty is usually on the menu at the weekend.
All the scaremongering around meat seems to have started with a study back in the Seventies which showed that Seventh Day Adventists — who are vegetarians — had a slightly lower risk of bowel cancer than the general population.
But you cannot possibly claim this is proof that meat causes cancer because Seventh Day Adventists don’t drink alcohol or smoke and most of them even avoid coffee and hot condiments and spices.
It is very poor science to isolate one aspect of such a restrictive diet and make sweeping claims about cancer risk.
Dietary studies are notoriously inaccurate.
They rely on people remembering what they ate and they take no account of how foods are cooked, not to mention other lifestyle factors.
Another study that is often used to claim a link between meat consumption and bowel cancer is the ongoing EPIC study.
This is a big European research project which compared southern and northern Europeans and found a small association between consumption of red and processed meat and bowel cancer.
But southern and northern Europeans have very different diets and lifestyles.
We know that olive oil, which is an important part of the southern European diet, is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
People who eat oily fish also get a protective effect – and we know that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids will protect against cancer.
The EPIC study did not compare like with like and when the UK data was analysed separately there was actually no association between meat intake and cancer.
The bottom line, if you will excuse the pun, is that I don’t personally feel lean red meat in any quantity is going to be a problem and we should stick to the government’s recommendations of not consuming more than 500g of red meat, including processed meat in a week (70g a day).
What is a problem is how people cook – because if you burn anything it produces pyrolysins and we know these cause mutations of the colonic cells.
So if you are going to have a BBQ, don’t burn the meat to death.
And when it comes to processed meat, remember it has a higher salt and fat content.
So have bacon or salami in moderation, and switch to lean red meat products.
What worries me is that with all the scare stories surrounding meat we are ignoring other risk factors
I see large numbers of patients with constipation where the bowel is exposed to harmful substances in the stool, and the longer a patient suffers, the greater the health damage.
If you reduce the amount of sugar and fat in your diet you will reduce your risk of bowel cancer and a whole lot of other deadly conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Instead we get all these scary stories saying ‘Don’t eat red meat’ when there is no evidence that red meat causes bowel cancer.
What we do know is that if you don’t eat red meat your chances of getting anaemia are pretty high.
Bowel cancer is increasing because we are all living longer.
By the age of 50 or 55, around 40 per cent of the population will have polyps on the bowel.
Only 10 per cent of them turn into cancer, but if you remove the polyp, you remove the risk.
By far the most effective way to reduce your risk of bowel cancer is to investigate any symptoms, such as rectal bleeding, and take part in the screening programme when you are invited to.
At the moment, only 50 per cent of people take up the offer of screening – and this is something that has to change to get a grip on this devastating disease.