Red meat is any meat from a mammal, including beef, pork, mutton, lamb and goat. These meats should only be eaten in small or moderate amounts because they are linked to colorectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
How you cook your red meat also matters. Some techniques create carcinogens that further increase your risk for colorectal and other cancers.
When red meat is charred or smoked, for example on a charcoal grill, the burnt crust contains some of the same carcinogens that are in the smoke from cigarettes or in air pollution.
“Processed meats like hot dogs and cold cuts hold perhaps some of the highest cancer risks, but how you cook unprocessed red meat is also important. The fatty juices that drip into the pan and create that sear and crust on the outside is where the carcinogens form,” says Carrie Daniel-MacDougall Ph.D., associate professor of Epidemiology. “Also, if meat is smoked, and the fatty juices drip and the smoke encases the meat, that will form carcinogens.”
Cooking meat at high temperature creates carcinogens
The two types of carcinogens are heterocyclic amines – related to pan-searing – and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which come from smoke. Grilling or barbequing will create both these carcinogens.
“Your body does have a way to remove these toxins, but there is perhaps a threshold where you’re not able to,” says Daniel-MacDougall. “We often see cancers of the colon, rectum, pancreas, kidney and bladder linked to red meat cooked at high temperatures.”
All those organs are connected to your body’s waste removal system, so they come into direct contact with the carcinogens as they pass through your body.
“If you’re not able to process the compounds and get rid of them through waste, you’ve got to think, where is it going? There are also associations between these toxins and breast cancer.” says Daniel-MacDougall.
Cook meat in the oven to minimize toxins
If you’re a fan of red meat, though, you can still have 18 ounces of red meat per week. Each serving should be around 3 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards.
Even if you like your meat heavily seared or grilled, you can cut back on the toxins by finishing the cooking in an oven or microwave. Marinating the meat will also help.
“I can’t tell people, especially Texans like my family, to never eat barbeque again,” says Daniel-MacDougall. “But if you like your meat very crispy and well done, eat it no more than a few times per month, and be sure to eat it with a lot of good veggies and fiber.”