Meat – the story of a balanced diet

One of our most reliable colaborators, Adrien Besseiche (updated photo), who has just obtained his PhD title for which we congratulate him!, is back with an exciting new article regarding the meat consumption and the risk of developing cancer. Also, since, it’s always good to look at the two sides of every story, we will present the health risks of avoiding meat alltogheter by becoming a Vegan. All this and more on 

Transformed meat and cold cuts: new scientifically proven carcinogens

Tobacco, alcohol and air pollution are well-known carcinogens. Recently, The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that excessive consumption of cold cuts increases the risk of certain types of cancer.

Experts concluded that each serving of 50 grams of sausages consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Otherwise, red meat consumption (beef, veal, pork, mutton, lamb, horse) is registered under the “probable carcinogen” label because of a lower level of evidence. The public is concerned about this situation for very popular products around the world. However this news is not surprising: the links between cancer and high intake of animal protein are not particularly new and formalize the findings of the World Cancer Research Fund. Yet, the message must be clear: processed meat is classified in the same group as tobacco, but that doesn’t mean it has the same risk. The WHO estimates that over-consumption of processed meat is responsible for 34,000 cancer-related deaths worldwide each year, compared to 1 million casualties due to tobacco and 600,000 linked to alcohol.

These findings confirm the current nutritional recommendations about using moderation in certain eating behaviors – not banning products – which can increase the risk for cancer but also for other chronic diseases (diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc.). Furthermore, barbecuing or cooking using the frying-pan could also be incriminated because it induces the formation of carcinogens (polycyclic hydrocarbons). The risk is not only linked to the animal origin of the proteins, but also its preparation, the amount consumed and the association with others behaviors that increase the risk of colorectal cancer (sedentarity, alcohol, etc).

What does this say to us, as meat consumers?

Of course, it’s imperative to reduce the consumption of processed and red meat. At the same time, this news also encourages us to rebalance our plate sizes and content with more fruits and vegetables.

How does processed meat hurt us?

Iron from meat oxidizes the lipids we consume, forming toxic compounds that attack the epithelial cells of the colon and promote carcinogenesis. But iron also has a large nutritional interest. The antioxidants contained in fruits and vegetables (citrus, kiwi, garlic, broccoli, beets) allow us to outweigh these deleterious effects.

Giving up enterily on animal proteins = deficiencies

1 / Meat consumption is a sensitive issue for a balanced diet as it’s the major source of protein and aminoacids, which are the “bricks” the body uses to builds muscles, internal cell structures, hormones, antibodies, etc.

No proteins = no life !

We produce very few amino acids and very small amounts, the rest must come from our diet. See table 1

2 / Plants also contain proteins. But there is a big difference among the protein richness in plant and animal products (meat, eggs, fish, dairy products). The plants, which are much less close to us in resemblence, do not give us all the essential aminoacids (EAA).

tableau AAE

Table 1. Essential aminoacids and their sources

3 / A vegan diet (without any animal products) is unbalanced. Such a regime requires a higher calorie intake to achieve certain weekly nutritional needs required by the human body. The fibers present in plants have the collateral effect of trapping some vitamins and minerals, thus preventing their absorption by the body. In addition, there is an increased risk of anemia in vegans. Meat is an incomparable source of easily absorbed iron, far more than any plant could bring into the diet. To prevent vitamin deficiency, a vegan will compensate with supplements which come from the digestive system of ruminants, since one doesn’t know to synthesize B12 artificially. In summary, vegans are often vitamin-deficient, anemic, Omega 3-deficient, and live in a more unhealthy lifestyle than people which have a balanced diet that includes meat.

4 / The best recipe to protect yourself from both the risk of cancers and weakness is to take everything in moderation. Diet and lifestyle. That’s why we are omnivores! Fish or eggs are also excellent sources of animal protein, as an alternative to red meat that brings in more vitamin B12 and the iron we need (women have twice the iron requirements compared to men). No diet can be based on completely removing a whole food group! 

5 / In the end, a positive development in the form of compromise is possible. It’s estimated that, on average, 70% of the protein consumed worldwide is animal protein, with large disparities between regions. Ideally, to cover our needs in EAA, 30% of animal protein would be enough. To complement proteins from meat, one must know the three main sources of vegetable proteins: cereals (wheat, corn, rice, barley, etc.), legumes (lentils, chickpeas, white or red beans, soybeans, etc.) and seeds (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, etc.).

By diversifying protein in our diet, deficiencies are avoided, the risk of cancer is warned off, and the estimated life expectancy is higher by 5-6 years compared to poeple releing solely on meat as the only source of protein.

Dr. Adrien and the pharmacists,

WHO World Cancer Research Fund, Laboratory of Human Nutrition (INRA Rennes, France)

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