Eating for Health
Eating healthily is something that we all know provide many benefits in terms of our energy levels and good we feel about ourselves. Our diet can also play a huge part in the prevention of many illnesses and diseases; cancer, heart disease and stroke to name a few.
Did you know that about a third of 13 of the most common cancers in the UK could be prevented through improved diet, physical activity and body weight?Our theme over the coming months is going to be to explore how different aspects of our diet can have a direct impact on helping to reduce our risk of major illnesses. We will offer realistic and simple tips to incorporate healthy habits into your lifestyle. After all, preventative measures are far preferable to developing or recovering from a major illness. This month we’re looking at processed and red meat and how this affects our health. There is strong evidence that eating a lot of these foods increases your risk of bowel cancer. To reduce your bowel cancer risk, we’re advised to eat no more than 500g (cooked weight) per week of red meat, like beef, pork and lamb, and eating processed meats like ham, bacon and salami as little as possible.
WHAT IS RED MEAT?
Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb and goat – foods like hamburgers, minced beef, pork chops and roast lamb.
As a rough guide 500g of cooked red meat is the same as 700g of raw red meat. To help you visualise how much this is, a medium portion of roast beef or pork is about 90g and a medium steak is about 145g (cooked weight).
Although eating a lot of red meat is linked to bowel cancer, it is a good source of nutrients including protein, iron and zinc, so it’s fine to include up to 500g a week as part of healthy, balanced diet.
WHAT IS PROCESSED MEAT?
Processed meat is meat which has been preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives. Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and some sausages. Hamburgers and minced meats only count as processed meat if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.
Research has shown that eating processed meat can increase your cancer risk. As there’s no real nutritional need to eat processed meats, if you eat meat, it’s best to choose fresh, unprocessed meat.
How are red and processed meat linked to cancer? There is strong evidence that eating a lot of red meat is a cause of bowel cancer. One possible reason for this is that the compound that gives red meat its colour, haem, may damage the lining of the bowel. Studies also show that people who eat a lot of red meat tend to eat fewer plant-based foods, so they benefit less from their cancer-protective properties. There is strong evidence that processed meats are a cause of bowel cancer.
When meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) can be formed. These substances can damage cells in the body, leading to the development of cancer.
Here are some easy ways to eat less red meat and cut down on processed meat:
- Keep a few days a week red-meat free
- Add beans or pulses such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils. Use them to replace some of the meat in dishes such as chilli or bolognese
- Instead of bacon, chorizo or salami, try spicy chicken or vegetarian sausages
HIGH CALORIE FOODS AND CANCER PREVENTION
Do foods and drinks high in fat and sugar increase cancer risk?
It’s no surprise that foods and drinks that are high in fat or sugar tend to be high in calories. Eating too much of these foods or drinking a lot of sugary drinks can mean you’re more likely to gain weight because it’s easy to take in a lot of calories in quite a small amount of food. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of several types of cancer.
So, it’s a good idea to base your diet on unprocessed foods like vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and fruit – these foods are nutritious, filling and can help you stay a healthy weight.
WHAT'S THE LINK BETWEEN HIGH CALORIE FOODS AND CANCER?
- High-calorie foods (also known as calorie-dense or energy-dense foods) include things like:
- Fast food, like burgers or fried chicken
These foods can increase your cancer risk because you’re more likely to be overweight or obese if you eat a lot of them. Although you might have heard that sugar or fat is directly linked to some cancers, this isn’t the case. The main reason for cutting back on these foods is because they’re linked to weight gain.
WHAT ABOUT SUGARY DRINKS AND CANCER?
There is lots of strong evidence that sugary drinks are not good for you when it comes to managing your weight. Sugary drinks include things like:
- Regular cola, lemonade and other soft drinks sweetened with sugar
- Energy drinks
- Milkshakes and frappes
Natural fruit juice also contains a lot of sugar, so it’s best not to drink more than one glass a day.
Fruit juice does count as one of our recommended 5 A DAY portions of vegetables and fruits, but it only counts once a day no matter how much you drink.
Sugary drinks are easy to drink in large quantities and are often available in ‘super-sized’ portions, but they don’t really fill you up even though they are quite high in calories.Tips for cutting down on high-calorie foods and drinks:
Watch out for processed foods. In general, the healthiest foods are those that haven’t been processed – this means they haven’t had extra sugar or fat added to them. Instead try to base your meals on vegetables, wholegrains, pulses and fruit.
Swap sugary drinks. It’s a good idea to stick to water or unsweetened tea or coffee whenever you can. There’s no strong evidence to link artificially sweetened drinks to cancer either, so diet drinks can be a good alternative too.