There’s increasing evidence that eating too much meat can increase overall mortality. Here’s why and what you can do about it.
Do you eat too much meat? If you’re like most Americans, the answer is probably “yes” and it may be hurting your health. Many people don’t feel a meal is complete without an oversized piece of meat on their dinner plate. In this quest for animal protein, many people are paying in the form of clogged arteries and higher rates of cancer.
What Can Happen If You Eat Too Much Meat
A recent study conducted on AARP members showed that people who ate the largest quantities of red meat and processed meats were twenty percent more likely to die of cancer compared to those who ate little. Other recent studies have shown an association between pancreatic cancer and meat consumption, particularly red meat. Most people already realize that some meats with their high saturated fat contents can elevate LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, but fewer know that eating red meat is associated with an increased risk of overall mortality.
How Does It Cause Cancer?
Why could eating too much meat increase the risk of cancer? One problem stems from the way meats are cooked. Meats that are grilled or cooked to high temperatures form heterocylic amines or HCA’s which are believed to be carcinogens. Eating meat that’s well done, fried, or barbequed seems to increase the risk of being exposed to these cancer causing chemicals. One way to reduce the amount of HCA’s formed when cooking meat is to marinate it with an acidic marinade before preparing it. Microwaving meat before cooking it also helps to reduce HCA formation.
Another reason why you may have a higher risk of cancer if you eat too much meat relates to the growth hormone given to cattle to help them grow larger. These hormones can remain in the meat and upset hormone balance leading to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer. Hormone residues found in beef and milk are being blamed for bringing on early puberty in young girls. This risk can be reduced by only eating hormone-free, organic meats.
What About Protein?
There’s no doubt that humans need protein, but most people are getting too much. The average person needs about 0.8 milligrams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you’re very active, you may need as much as 1.2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Getting too much protein can stress the kidneys and elevate the risk of osteoporosis by increasing calcium excretion. It’s also not necessary to get protein exclusively from meat. Vegetarian protein sources are usually lower in fat and calories, although it’s important to vary the sources since most don’t contain all of the essential amino acids.
If You Eat Too Much Meat?
If you eat too much meat, try substituting half of the meat you’re currently eating with vegetarian protein sources such as tempeh, beans, lentils, and whole grains such as quinoa. Even mushrooms can take on a “meaty” taste and texture when prepared properly. Expand your concept of what constitutes protein and you’ll be rewarded with a longer, healthier life.