Red meat consumption linked to colorectal cancer

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For most Americans, meals tend to center around meat. To significantly decrease a person’s risks of developing colorectal cancer, experts at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center suggest a new approach to meal planning that focuses more on fruit and vegetable dishes.

According to recent findings issued by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), consuming more than 18 ounces, or a little over a pound, of red meat (pork, beef, lamb and goat) each week can significantly increase a person’s risks for developing colorectal cancer. In addition, every ounce and a half of red meat a person eats over 18 ounces increases their risks by 15 percent.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and National Nutrition Month, and nutritionists at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center are encouraging people to increase portion sizes of the vegetable, fruit, whole grain and/or bean dishes being served and decrease the portion size of meat.

Focus on Fruit and Vegetable Dishes

“Instead of asking what goes well with pork chops, ask what goes well with broccoli and sweet potatoes,” said Sally Scroggs, senior health education specialist in M. D. Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. “That way, your serving of meat becomes more of a side dish and not the center of the meal.”

“Red meat contains substances linked to colon cancer,” Scroggs said. “For example, some studies suggest that the heme iron (the compound that gives red meat its color) may increase the risk of developing colon cancer.”

AICR recommends that two-thirds of a meal consist of plant-based foods. Consuming less red meat and more plant-based foods can significantly decrease a person’s risks of developing colorectal cancer.

Don’t Eliminate Red Meat

Scroggs emphasizes that these recommendations are not meant to encourage people to completely eliminate red meat from their diet. “Consuming red meat in modest amounts is a valuable source of nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Moderation is the key,” Scroggs said.

“According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans were eating an average of 36 ounces of red meat every week in 2006,” Scroggs said.

Scroggs recommends serving about three ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) of cooked red meat at meals. “If you follow this recommended serving size, you can include red meat in as many as six meals of your weekly diet.”

Avoid Processed Meats

AICR also recommends eating very little processed meat (meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding chemical preservatives), such as ham, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, pastrami and salami. Every ounce and a half of processed meat eaten a day is thought to increase a person’s risks of developing colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

“It’s a good idea to avoid eating processed meats as much as possible,” Scroggs said. “Save that hot dog for special occasions, such as a family cookout or the ballpark.”

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer found in men and women in this country. The American Cancer Society estimates almost 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in the United States for 2008. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among Americans but is considered a highly preventable disease.

Source: University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, USA

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