What do you enjoy eating on a warm Sunday afternoon? Or when you are inviting some friends over, what do you cook for them? If you are amongst those food lovers who cannot do without meat, I share your sentiment, and so does many others across the world. We always cherish the number of varied non-vegetarian dishes made of chicken, beef, pork, veal, etc. Be it beef curry or pasta; we never miss a chance to try out the delicious items made with red meat.
But what if I told you that excessive eating of red meat increases the risk of cancer? Oxford University conducted recent research indicating that consumption of red meat significantly contributed to a person’s chance of developing cancer. On the contrary, a large-scale study co-funded by World Research Cancer Fund and Cancer Research UK demonstrated that following a vegetarian or vegan diet leads to a reduced risk of developing cancer.
What is the research?
The researchers at the Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford set out to assess the associations of vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets with the risks of cancers. The primary aim was to find out the cancers( colorectal cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and prostate cancer) associated with the consumption of meat. They also wanted to explore the role of potential mediators between the associations of different food types.
Between 2006 and 2010, the Oxford-based team investigated the relationship between diet and cancer risk by analysing massive data. The data included over 47,2000 British adults from the UK Biobank; none of the participants had any symptoms of cancer during recruitment and was relatively healthy.
Depending on the dietary questions completed at recruitment, participants were categorised into:
- Group 1: Regular meat eaters (those who ate meat more than five times a week)
- Group 2: Low amount of meat consumers (those who ate meat five times or less per week)
- Group 3: Pescatarians (those who ate fish and plant-based food)
- Group 4: Vegetarians (diets free of all meat)
After an average follow-up of 11.4 years, 54,961 incident cancers were identified, including 5882 colorectal, 7537 postmenopausal breast, and 9501 prostate cancers.
When compared with regular meat-eater, individuals who are fish-eater, vegetarians, or eat meat occasionally were all demonstrated to have a lower risk of cancer. If people are low-meat eaters, they have a lower risk of all cancers in comparison to regular meat-eaters. Furthermore, vegetarian postmenopausal women who followed a steady diet of plant-based food items had a lower risk of cancer.
However, overweight or obese women can have a higher risk which indicates that BMI plays a crucial role in cancer development. On the other hand, vegetarian or fish-eating men have a lower risk of prostate cancer. Still, smoking and an unhealthy lifestyle, including smoking and body mass index, play an essential role in this aspect.
Another research conducted by the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health found prospective evidence regarding the health concern. The study participants completed detailed dietary assessments, after which their health was tracked for upto 30 years. The evidence of the study gave the following results:
- Each 50 g/day higher intake of processed meat (e.g. bacon, ham, and sausages) increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 18%.
- Each 50 g/day higher intake of unprocessed red meat (such as beef, lamb, and pork) increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 9%.
- There was no clear link between eating poultry (such as chicken and turkey) and an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
What do the findings indicate?
Red meat contains a high content of saturated fat, and processed meat has a high sodium(salt). Consuming saturated fats increases levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, whereas excess salt consumption raises blood pressure. Both LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure causes coronary heart diseases.
Dr Keren Papier of the Nuffield Department of Population Health pointed out that meat production leads to greenhouse gas emissions. So, if we reduce meat production and consumption, we will benefit the environment.
Should we stop eating meat?
Doctors and health experts have always emphasised the benefits of eating whole foods such as vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, and pulses. But, on the other hand, eating meat daily increases the risk of high blood pressure, which causes many diseases.
Hence, eating non-vegetarian food in moderation is the best option to lead a healthy life and keep diseases at bay.