Are you struggling to understand recent reports about beef, bacon, and hot dogs? You’re not alone. Here’s how make sense of the science, and my favorite way to keep meat on the menu.
The Beef with Meat
A couple of weeks ago, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report suggesting that eating more processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, and ham, is linked to an increased risk for colorectal cancer, the second leading cancer killer in the United States.
In addition, the IARC said a higher intake of red meat, including beef, pork, veal, and lamb, is probably carcinogenic, but the evidence isn’t as strong as for the processed kind. Poultry and fish were not fingered in this report as problematic.
Scary, right? At first glance, yes. But some perspective is in order.
Risk is relative. While the report indicates that greater meat intake results in greater cancer risk, it’s important to note that about 34,000 cancer deaths yearly around the world are linked to higher intakes of processed meat, while 600,000 are attributable to alcohol. Smoking cigarettes causes one million cancer deaths a year worldwide.
It’s OK to Eat Meat
If you like meat, it’s OK to have it as part of a balanced eating plan. The question is what type and how much meat is safer to eat.
While the IACR report says the risk of cancer is linked to the amount of red meat consumed, it doesn’t provide a specific level to include in the diet. However, the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) suggests limiting red meat to 18 ounces (cooked) weekly.
The IACR doesn’t ask people to stop eating processed meat, but it does makes it clear that lowering consumption can reduce the risk for cancer. The AICR suggests avoiding ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, sausages, and other processed meat, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Processed meats contain nitrate salts that form powerful carcinogens called nitrosamines in the body.
Does that mean the occasional hot dog, ham sandwich, or bacon with eggs on the weekend causes cancer? No, but I consider processed meats, including cold cuts, as “sometimes” foods rather than everyday fare, especially for children.
The upside to eating less meat is the opportunity to include more plant foods, which are rich in compounds that help to ward off cancer and other chronic conditions. Whole grains including quinoa, freekeh, and farro, are filling and are higher in protein than many other grains. Adding vegetables to meat dishes reduces meat intake and stretches your food dollar, too.
Mushrooms and Meat: A Perfect Pair
Mushrooms blend well with meat, in part because they take on the flavors in the dish, including that of the meat.
I substitute an equal amount of cooked mushrooms for half the beef in many of my favorite recipes, including Mushroom Burgers, Mushroom Pizza, and Almost Lasagna. Just chop the mushrooms to match the consistency of the meat, cook, and blend into the recipe. Here’s one of my favorite beef stew recipes made over with more mushrooms and less meat. Enjoy!
Beef and Mushroom Stew
Makes 6 servings
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 pound boneless beef bottom round roast or other stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon salt
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed dried thyme leaves
2 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (you can use an equal amount of red wine and broth if you like)
16 ounces sliced baby portabello mushrooms or any other type of mushroom
2 cups chopped carrots or baby carrots
1 cup frozen peas
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and black pepper. Add the meat and coat it with the flour mixture.
In a large stockpot, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil over medium heat until hot. Working in batches, add the meat to the pan and brown. Remove the meat from the pan. Season meat with salt. Reserve.
Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in the stockpot. Add the onions, garlic, and thyme. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat or until onions have softened. Add 1 cup of the beef broth and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or until the browned bits attached to the bottom and sides of the stockpot are dissolved. Stir in the remaining broth.
Return the meat to the stockpot. Stir in the mushrooms, cover the stockpot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 1 1/4 hours. Add the carrots to the stockpot. Cover, and continue to simmer for 30 minutes or until the beef and carrots are fork-tender. Stir in the peas and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
8 grams fat
283 milligrams sodium
20 grams carbohydrate
4 grams fiber
27 grams protein
40 milligrams calcium