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Protein is good for your health in many different ways. Your body needs protein to grow cells, heal tissue and maintain a healthy immune system. This will help you recover more quickly and avoid infection. Sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, milk and alternatives, nuts, dried beans, peas and lentils, and soy products. Meat is a valuable source of several other nutrients including iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
Research shows that a diet high in red meat and eating processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer. The reasons why red and processed meat increase the risk of colorectal cancer are currently being studied. Some possibilities include:
Cooking temperature – cooking meat at high temperatures until very well done produces chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs and PAHs may increase cancer risk.
Chemicals that are formed when the meat is digested or processed – nitrates and nitrites are added as a preservative in processed meats. Nitrates are converted to nitrites in the stomach. Nitrites may contribute to the formation of potentially cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds such as nitrosamines and nitrosamides. Several N-nitroso compounds are thought to cause cancer.
Dietary heme iron – red meat contains higher amounts of heme iron than white meat. Heme iron has been shown to cause damage to the mucosa of the colon and promoted increased cell growth in animal studies. It also promotes the formation of potentially cancer-causing N-nitroso compounds.
An increased intake of red and processed meat appears to modestly increase the risk of death from cancer, heart disease and other diseases.
Studies have shown that eating a lot of well-done meat cooked at high temperatures may increase the risk of cancer. High-temperature cooking methods include frying, broiling and barbequing. Cooking meat, poultry and fish at high temperatures creates chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Researchers have found over a dozen different HCAs in cooked meat that may increase cancer risk.
When fat from meat, poultry or fish drips onto hot coals or stones, other potentially cancer-causing substances are formed. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are added onto food by smoke and flare-ups.
Factors that may be linked to the creation of HCAs and PAHs include:
The highest daily intake of HCAs that a person can safely eat has not been established. There is also no good way to measure how much HCAs would have to be eaten to increase cancer risk. More research is needed.
Canada’s Food Guide recommends that adults have 2 to 3 servings each day from the meat and alternatives food group. Based on recent evidence, adults should try to limit the amount of red meat to 3 servings per week. The recommended number of servings per day may differ depending on your age, sex and how active you are.
The recommended amount of meat prepared in a healthy way is part of healthy eating.
I want everyone to win their battles like we did. That’s why I’ve left a gift in my will to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Our staff and volunteers meet with elected officials from local, provincial and national governments to persuade them to make the fight against cancer one of their top priorities.