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W.H.O warns against cancer causing meat: What is the recommended way forward?

The month of November, which precedes the festive season, is here and some people, including organic farmers and consumers, are concerned as to whether they should eat any meat, at all, in view of the recent announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) that some types of meat cause cancer; especially colon cancer.

This concern is bound to affect how people celebrate during this coming festive season:

For most families and consumers, meat and meat products constitute an indispensable component of the festive season food menu. In this blog article I share, with the readers, both good and bad news guided by the following questions about meat.

  • Why eat meat?
  • What type of meat do you eat and what are their sources?
  • How do you cook your meat?
  • How much meat do you consume per meal and how often do you eat meat?
  • What is the way forward regarding meat consumption?

In our last article on GMOs and their dangers, ToF no. 125 of October 2015, titled ““Dangers of growing and eating GMO Bt. Maize”, for which we have received positive feedback that it was well written, clear and easy to understand “the ABC risks” of growing and eating GMO Bt. Maize. Check here for the article on page 5 of the October edition of the The Organic Farmer magazine: http://theorganicfarmer.org/sites/default/files/TOF%20No%20125%20October%202015.pdf

Maize, which is a local stable, is consumed almost on a daily basis by most Kenyans and hence its significance and role in safeguarding our nutrition and health, in addition to ensuring food security. How does the safety of our maize varieties link with the type of meat we consume? Maize, a major source of carbohydrates, is most often consumed as “ugali” accompanied by some form of vegetables or with meat, a choice protein food. As such, naturally, when health concerns are raised, by WHO, the leading global health authority on health matters, that meat may cause cancer, the information raised serious concerns among consumers, including organic consumers. The objective of this article is to provide relevant information to laypersons, including organic farmers, in easy to understand language, some of these concerns, using the outline of the five questions posed at the beginning of this article (see above).

Recently, an international panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization concluded that eating processed meats which include; sausages, hot dogs, tinned meat, ham and bacon causes cancer: These meat products from derived from cattle, goats, sheep and pigs increase the risk of cancer, and that consuming other red meats, even those not processed, increases the risk of colon cancer, in particular. It is important to note that, early this year, in March 2015, the same WHO raised the similar cancer concerns that, glyphosate, a common pesticide, used as a weed killer and referred by the trade name, Roundup, is a carcinogen type 2A, which means, it probably causes cancer in humans. Recent studies have linked this chemical with various types of cancer. This is a scientific fact backed by credible research evidence. This article, although not about Roundup, will however, also explain how meat contaminated with Roundup residues, from animals fed on pesticide contaminated feeds, including feeds containing GMO products, contributes to its cancer causing abilities, in some types of meat, as confirmed by WHO.

 

Why consume meat?

Human beings evolved as hunter-gatherers with meat being a major component of their diet, from the very beginnings of human existence. As such, from a genetic and anthropological perspective, as evidenced by the structure and function of their teeth, humans have evolved to consume meat as an important protein source which is part of a balanced diet. However, with the passage of time and an increasing choice of protein sources, including good quality organic vegetarian sources, human beings can afford to do without meat and still maintain good health. On the basis of research findings. I would recommend some meat, depending on the source and one’s socio-anthropological circumstances. A good example is pastoralist communities who cannot do without meat, just like fisher folk communities cannot do without fish!

What type of meat should we eat and what type should we keep away from?

Good quality meat is that which is from grass-fed, free roaming animals exposed to plenty of sunshine (best source of vitamin D) as is found in naturally raised cattle, goats and sheep. This type of meat is considered organic, especially if it is raised with little or no use of vaccines, antibiotics, hormones, growth enhancers and other chemicals that speed up growth. Organic meats, other than their superior nutritional content, contain higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has anti-cancer properties and hence protects people from cancer. Consuming this type of meat protects one from cancer instead of causing cancer! Now you know.

Bad meat, that people should keep away from, is meat raised in unnatural environments which include, not allowing the animal to feed on grass; instead feeding the animals on mostly grains, some of which contain harmful chemicals, including genetically modified products; keeping the animals in enclosed sheds which limits their ability to move around with freedom to exercise and get enough sunshine (Vit. D): This unnatural ways of fast-tracked animal growth have a negative impact on their health outcomes, including the quality of milk, meat and other animal products from these “factory assembly line” animals. In the USA, for example, they call these animals “factory raised animals” or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The meat from this type of cattle is not only of inferior quality but also contains many harmful products that include cancer causing residues. Some of this meat is processed and packaged for the export market. Does this market include Kenya?  Find out for yourself!

Fortunately for Kenya, we do not yet have CAFO type of meat which is meat produced from cattle raised in “meat production factories”: This is beef cattle meat production, for commercial purposes, which is produced in a “car assembly line” type of factory set up. This type of meat is from cattle that live in confined spaces, don’t move much and are injected with hormones and antibiotics to grow faster and mature as quickly as possible. The calves are carefully selected and put into small spaces where they are vaccinated and exposed to high doses of antibiotics to avoid infections and to promote faster growth:  Additionally, they are fed on growth enhancing hormones and worst of all, these animals are feed on genetically modified corn (maize) and soya products, which are not only full of pesticides residues but are genetically modified to produce more meat for volumes sales in supermarkets and for export markets. These are the types of meat that cause cancer and that we should avoid or their processed products. These products may be entering Kenya, illegally, and ending up on our supermarket shelves. Are these products already on our shelves? That cannot be ruled out given Kenyans propensity to prefer “imported products”! Only specialized testing of these imported processed meat products can confirm this.

The bad meat gets even worse when the “meat processing” adds harmful preservatives, like nitrites, artificial color and artificial sugars, like aspartame, which increase the risk of cancer even more. Some of these preservatives and additives, like nitrites and aspartame are carcinogenic in their own right. What is even worse, meat raised in this “toxic” manner is further processed to ensure it stays longer on the shelves, by adding chemical preservatives, which include nitrites. Processing involves adding non-food ingredients including harmful preservatives like nitrites, which convert to cancer causing products when heated, artificial coloring and genetically modified (GMO) soya and corn products which contain high residues of cancer causing chemical residues, like glyphosate and its metabolites; This is what makes “processed meats” particularly harmful to health: WHO researchers have confirmed that they can cause cancers, especially colon cancer. Fortunately, it is easy to identify and keep off such meat products: They are often imported and sold in local supermarkets. Another reason why we should not introduce GMOs because their products may end up on our dinner table, in the meat!

Does how you cook the meat affect its cancer causing ability?

Yes. Cooking meat, any meat, especially red meats, on open charcoal, at high temperatures, results in chemical reactions between creatine, in the meat and amino acids which convert to cancer causing polyaromatic hydrocarbons(PAH) and carcinogenic nitrosamines.  Nitrosamines and other cancer causing products can also be produced from roasting meat on open air charcoal, even if the meat is organic and free from processed meat products.  The key to note is that when fatty smoke, from fat dropping on hot charcoal, as obtains when roasting or barbequing may result in carcinogenic products, from a combination of the fatty smoke and the black spots that contain the carcinogenic nitrosamines, that form on meat when it is “too well done” as is often the case with “nyama choma”.  Note, however, that “processed meats”, like sausages, hot dogs and bacon, when consumed in large amounts and frequently, over a period of time, are likely to manifest in cancers, especially colon cancer. You are advised to keep off from such meat.

In order to reduce the “cancer  effect” resulting from the method of cooking meat, minimize the period of “roasting” the meat, turn the meat frequently and consume it as almost when medium rare or medium done. Unfortunately, because of habit and cultural considerations, most people enjoy their “nyama choma” when it is “well done”, that is, when burnt almost to “charcoal done” and full of carcinogens! Avoid this type of meat to avoid carcinogens from the meat.

On the positive side, there are some ways of reducing the carcinogenic effect of red meat. These include “broiling” your meat as is done when you use an oven to cook the meat, a form of indirect heating of the meat. One can also cook by slow heating the meat aka do “boilo”; Another way of reducing cancer causing products in meat is by marinating the meat with various health promoting spices and herbs. Marinating the meat, overnight, with using red wine and beer has been found to have beneficial effects of reducing cancer causing nitrosamines, before barbequing the meat. Some research shows that washing down the meat with a bottle of beer or a glass of good red wine can reduce the cancer causing effect of red meat, especially the “toxic processed red meat” types.

 

How much meat should one consume to avoid or minimize cancer causing results ?

As with everything consumed the rule of thumb is: Consume in moderation: A few pieces of meat, equivalent to a few grams of meat, is all you need to get enough of the protein your body needs: not a quarter kilo per sitting!

As they say the “dose is the poison”…which means the effect is cumulative and dose/quantity related. Unfortunately, some people consume upto a half kilo or even a kilogram of meat per meal! This is not only unhealthy but may lead to your early death from colon cancer or any other cancer.

Is fatty meat good for your health?

Until recently, people have been misled to believe that saturated fats cause heart disease and obesity, but there's really no evidence supporting this notion. On the contrary, an overwhelming amount of recent research has effectively dispelled this myth. Not only do saturated fats not promote heart disease, one actually needs saturated fats for proper brain and immune system function.

Moreover, many vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K(which form the acronym ADEK), are fat-soluble, and one needs  to have fat in order to absorb those vitamins from consumed food. Many people also don't realize that processed foods labeled as "low-fat" typically contain very high amounts of added sugars and artificial sweeteners instead of good quality animal fats. The added SUGAR, usually refined sugar and artificial sugar  also called aspartame is what causes obesity, which in turn leads to inflammation, which is the root cause of all chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, among others. Recent studies to confirm  these facts include the following:

  • A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found no association between high levels of saturated fat in the diet and heart disease. Nor could they find an association between saturated fat consumption and other life-threatening diseases like stroke or type 2 diabetes. However, the study did find a disease link to trans-fat consumption.Trans-fats, which are formed from vegetable oils heated at high temperatures also called hygrogenation, were linked to a 28 percent increased risk for death from coronary heart disease, and a 34 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality. This is important because many "experts" frequently confuse trans-fats with saturated fat intake.
  • A pooled analysis of 11 studies showed that replacing saturated fat (found in foods like meat, egg yolks, dairy products, salmon, nuts, avocados, coconut oil, and olive oil) with monounsaturated fat (vegetable cooking oils), carbohydrates (sugars and grains) raised the risk of non-fatal heart attacks.

What is the interpretation of these research findings in the context of meat?

Our ancestors (and the Masai of today) have been right all along: Animal meant and fat, as long it is organic and consumed in moderate quantities, is actually healthy…without the fats we cannot absorb the ADEK group of vitamins…. our brains (which are 80% fat!) cannot function optimally without fat or cholesterol, especially the omega  3 type of fats and high density lipoproteins. The “bad cholesterol” is the low density lipoproteins(LDH) and trigycerides, which result from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, like Margarine and Elianto oil: This harmful vegetable oils are erroneously referred to as “heart friendly” vegetable oils. On the contrary, when heated to high temperatures as obtains when frying chips, for example, these oils become “partially hydrogenated” and convert to “trans-fats” which are very bad for the heart. As such, these vegetable oils, including the liquid vegetable oils, like Elianto, popularly used by many Kenyans and mistakenly referred to as “heart friendly” are, on the contrary, a key risk factor for heart disease!

 Instead use animal fat, butter and ghee, coconut oil, avocado, eggs and olive oils, preferably from organic sources. This has been covered in more detail in previous ToF articles.

Finally, what is the Way Forward with meat?

In view of the authoritative WHO findings, with regard to meat causing cancer, the recommended way forward includes the following:

  • Look for and consume healthy organic meat: Consume it in moderation and cook it the right way as explained above.
  • Avoid processed meat, especially the imported varieties like sausages, bacon and ham, hot dogs and tinned meats; These processed meats contain not only harmful preservatives, like nitrites and colorings, which are cancer causing, but may also contain genetically modified corn and soya products, in addition to cancer causing aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and pesticide residues, like glyphosate, which are carcinogens on their own.
  • Minimize high temperature cooked “nyama choma” or avoid it altogether. However, if you must consume meat cooked in this manner, try and marinate it with herbs and spices.
  • Alternatively, marinate the meat, for “nyama choma” with red wine or beer. Some studies suggest that ‘washing down” the meat with a bottle of beer may have beneficial effects in neutralizing the cancer causing nitrosamines. Caution: This is not advice to imbibe endless bottles of beer!
  • Finally, for more information, go to the organic consumers website at:

Or contact the article author, Dr. Peter Mokaya, Director and CEO, Organic Consumers Alliance(OCA) at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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