Is meat healthy?

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It is now well accepted that nitrites found in processed meats such as sausages, bacon, ham, smoked meats, salami, prosciutto etc., have carcinogenic effects on the body. Sodium nitrate is a preservative and fixes the colour of the meat. When nitrite containing meat is heated (particularly at high temperatures) nitrosamines form which are cancer causing. A study in January 2012 found that eating just 50g daily of processed meat (e.g. 1 sausage or 2 slices of bacon) increased the risk of pancreatic cancer.

So, we know that processed meats are unhealthy but what about other meat? It doesn’t have to be. Here are some simple ways to make your meat consumption healthier.

Tips for healthy meat consumption

  • How you cook your meat is key. Avoid high temperature cooking i.e. pan frying (if you do so, don’t heat the oil to smoke point before adding the meat) or grilling to well done on an open flame such as a barbeque (use a regular gas or electric grill). High temperature cooking produces cancer causing substances (heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) also found in smoked meats. Fry at low temperatures and turn the meat over regularly during cooking which considerably reduces formation of harmful substances.
  • Avoid charring meat which will greatly increase the harmful free radical quota.
  • Eat meat with fresh vegetables which contain antioxidants to neutralise the harmful effects.
  • Don’t buy cheap meat, economise on something else! Eat wild, organic or free range meat or meat from reputable sources. Look for meat from independent farms. Factory farming not only dehumanises animals but produces meat containing hormones and antibiotics.
  • Avoid mince unless organic. The use of so called “Pink slime”, scraps from the slaughterhouse which are added to mince as a cheap filler was recently publicised in a campaign supported by Jamie Oliver. Formerly used only in pet food, the scraps are treated with ammonia to kill bacteria and make the meat safe” for consumption. Hmmm, make up your own mind on this one!
  • Keep portion sizes small i.e. palm size. If you don’t feel that this will fill you up, you can add vegetable protein to the meat such as lentils especially the puy variety which have a “meaty” flavour.
  • Rather than eating meat/fish twice per day, have one meal which is made up of vegetarian protein. See recipes for ideas.