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Meat & Potatoes: Read Before You Eat

Focused on Health - September 2011

meat and cancerby Laura Nathan-Garner

How can you eat meat and potatoes without widening your waistline — and raising your cancer risk? Below, Mary Ellen Herndon, employee wellness dietitian at MD Anderson, offers advice.

What does eating red meat have to do with cancer?

It’s okay to eat some red meat, but it can become a problem when you eat excessive amounts. That’s because red meat contains substances that have been linked to colorectal cancer. And, a recent study showed that eating too much red meat can possibly lead to modest weight gain over time, which also can increase your risk for several cancers, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

How much red meat can a person safely eat?

Play it safe by eating no more than three, six-ounce (cooked) servings of red meat per week. That includes pork, lamb and beef. One serving is about the size of two decks of cards.

So, you could have a six-ounce burger for lunch on Monday, another one for dinner on Wednesday, and a six-ounce steak for dinner on Saturday. Eating more red meat than that is not recommended.

Is it safe to eat processed meat?

Cancer-causing substances form when bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni and other processed meats are preserved. So, ideally, you should avoid them.

Or, eat them only on special occasions.

meat and cancerAre there any healthy red meat or beef options?

Yes, some red meats are less fatty and a better option for you. If you eat red meat or beef, try these leaner options:

  • Tenderloin, loin chops and other meats with “loin” in their name
  • Ground beef labeled at least 95% lean

How can I safely get the protein I need?

Low-fat fish, marinated chicken and turkey are all healthy options. So are non-meat protein sources, such as eggs and dairy items like low-fat cheese. Other great protein sources include beans, edamame, tofu and hummus, which provide cancer-fighting nutrients.

What about potatoes? Are they a healthy choice?

Research shows that eating lots of potatoes causes long-term weight gain, which can up your cancer risk. So, it’s important to limit the amount you eat.

You shouldn’t eat more than one medium potato baked or a half-cup of cooked red potatoes per meal.

Any tips to make potatoes healthier?

meat and cancerInstead of frying potatoes, lightly coat them with oil spray and roast them in the oven. Add spices like cayenne pepper, turmeric, cumin or rosemary for flavor. Or try sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.

And, cook potatoes without peeling them first. This way, you’ll get more of the fiber, potassium, vitamin C and other nutrients close to or inside the skin.

Instead of filling up on potatoes, opt for larger servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans. These foods offer vitamins and nutrients your body needs to fight off diseases like cancer.  

Related Links
Healthier Ways to Grill Meat (MD Anderson)

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center