How To Choose Better Proteins - In Response to the World Health Organization's Statement on Red and Processed Meats

Get Healthier Protein Choices | Tori Holthaus MS, RDN, LD Response to the World Health Organization's Statement on Red and Processed Meats | YES! Nutrition, LLC

Love your bacon and sausage?  Not so fast, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) news released in October noted that consuming both red and processed meats might raise your risk of developing cancer.  

You can get the deets on the WHO statements here and here, but at the end of the day you need to know what this means for you – and for your health. 

So in true YES! Nutrition spirit, let’s share what you can do and what you should do for better protein choices – whether you’re opting for red/processed meat or not.

Focus on Plant Protein: Focus on plant proteins like beans (navy, black, pinto, garbanzo, mung), nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios), lentils, soy (organic whole, tofu, tempeh), seeds (hemp, pumpkin, sunflower), whole grains (quinoa, amaranth, Kamut, teff, sorghum)…are you catching my drift that the options for protein expand far beyond red and processed meat?  Fitting more room in your diet for these full-of-protein (and fiber) options likely means that you’ll naturally be making less room for the R/P meats.  And when studies show that just 50 grams of processed meat eaten daily can raise your risk of colorectal cancer by about 18% (50 grams is just 1 Hebrew National beef frank hot dog, 1 serving of beef jerky, or 1½ Jimmy Dean sausage patty), that’s enough for me to want to pass the plants to you, and you, and you, and you.

When You Meat, Meat Right: This means that if you choose red and processed meats, choose the best quality option available.  Nitrates/nitrosamines in smoked or cured hams, hot dogs, and salami helps keep these meat's pink coloration – without it, the meat would turn brown.  While these substances may be visually pleasing, they may also be carcinogenic.  Not good!  Luckily, there are nitrate-free meat options available like uncured Applegate grass-fed beef hot dogs and Organic Prairie’s organic beef and ham.

Dip and Flip: Though the World Health Organization says that the role of these compounds are not fully understood, certain compounds (called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)) may contribute to carcinogenic risk.  The good news?  You can help reduce the production of these compounds by first dipping your red meat into a marinade, then by flipping meat over often on the grill rather than leaving meat on the grill to rest.

Meat Halfway…or when cook time is nearly finished: Further reduce your exposure to HCAs and PAHs, compounds that may contribute to carcinogenicity, by cooking your meat in a slow cooker and away from high heat – think stews, soups, or roasts.  If you can’t get away from the grill, try finishing your meats on the grill after having started the cooking process indoors (like in an oven).  Or, if your meat happens to get charred or blackened, it may be best just to cut that part away.

What’s Moderation?  In response to the WHO statements, friends on my Facebook page chimed in and said, “It’s all about moderation.”  The problem with moderation is that there is no true definition of what it means and there is no specific guideline yet from the WHO’s International Agency for Cancer Research.  My clinical opinion: if you’re having a moderate amount (4 slices) of bacon for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch, and a stick of processed beef jerky for a snack, that’s not moderation.  Think about what normal consumption means for you, if that coincides with what you believe "moderate" amounts are, and scale back if necessary.

What would be a good first step in choosing better proteins?  Whatever works best for you!  Engage in Meatless Mondays.  Choose at least one meat-free meal each day.  Make beef stew instead of grilling beef.  Try uncured, grass-fed beef hot dogs.  Opt for roasted root vegetables with a handful of pecans for snack versus a stick of beef jerky.  Braise steak and layer it over a spinach salad with strawberries.  What do YOU think would work best for you?  Leave a note for me in the comments section below!