Like any normal American, I consume copious amounts of red meat on a daily basis. I love grilling steaks, cooking burgers, roasting lamb, all of that good stuff. Somehow, the idea that red meat is unhealthy has crept into public discourse, and I am rudely reminded of this nonsense whenever I order a carnivore meal at a restaurant.
This story is 100% true, I promise. I was eating at a restaurant down the street from where I live one time. Joining me were my fiancee and four friends of ours. When we all placed our orders with the waiter, I requested a bacon burger with an additional patty instead of a bun, extra cheese, and some additional bacon as a side. Total, it was probably about 16 ounces of meat. No big deal, and my friends were already accustomed to my eating habits so all was well. The waiter happily took the request and off he went.
We all had a terrific meal and were casually enjoying ourselves when some random guy wearing an apron approached our table. He interjected our conversation out of nowhere with: “Hey guys! I just had to stop by and meet the man who ate all that meat!”
I raised my hand. “Yeah, that was me!” I was proud of my achievement.
Without hesitation, the guy replies: “The World Health Organization claims that lots of red meat intake causes colon cancer. Just to let you know! I can’t remember the last time I had to cook an order like that.”
We were all taken aback and it was awkward as absolute hell. I was a paying customer at an establishment, and the cook comes out to tell me I’m going to get cancer, and he implied that I was a burden on him? What a guy!
This was the rudest interaction I have probably ever had out in public, and it rightfully pissed me off. Anyway, that moron’s claim still led me to do some research when I got home. Does red meat really cause cancer? Because if so, I am screwed. Let’s look into it!
My first quest was to look up the recommended diets by medical professionals and organizations in order to minimize my cancer risk. The American Cancer Society states: Overall, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (and low in red and processed meats) have been linked with lower colorectal cancer risk, although it’s not exactly clear which factors are important.
Interesting. I immediately wondered why they are recommending vegetables for consumption when they have been linked to causing cancer. I scrolled down further in the article and read this:
“Overall, the lifetime risk of someone developing colon cancer is 5%. To put the numbers into perspective, the increased risk from eating the amount of processed meat in the study would raise average lifetime risk to almost 6%.”
Oh WOW. One whole percentage point difference in a summation of 800 studies? How many freaking variables were present in the differences between all these studies? Let the mainstream media report this as FACTUAL, even when the initial report said: “it’s not exactly clear which factors are important.”
If certain scientific bodies are presenting different lifestyle choices as being more “risky” when it comes to cancer, we should evaluate what “risk” actually means.
One author in The Atlantic succinctly addressed this point:
“Two risk factors could be slotted in the same category if one tripled the risk of cancer and the other increased it by a small fraction. They could also be classified similarly even if one causes many more types of cancers than the other, if it affects a greater swath of the population, and if it actually causes more cancers.
So these classifications are not meant to convey how dangerous something is, just how certain we are that something is dangerous. But they’re presented with language that completely obfuscates that distinction.”
THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SUCKS
More specifically, the suck at communicating their findings. How so? Well…
The International Agency of Research into Cancer (IARC) is an arm of the World Health Organization and they are tasked with two jobs:
- Find out whether things cause cancer.
- Provide the definitive word on these possible risks.
Here is their report on their findings regarding red meat. After 22 scientists reviewed a group of studies, they “classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A)”.
You’re probably wondering what “Group 2A” and what “Group 1” mean. The IARC classifies everything into five possible groups. The highest group, Group 1, is where established carcinogens are classified. You know, like smokin’ Newports and asbestos. The next two groups are 2A (probably carcinogenic) and 2B (possibly carcinogenic). The next group, 3, is for substances that can’t be classified because of the lack of research.
We need to remember though, these classifications into groups are based on the strength of the evidence and NOT the degree of risk.
With their classifications, the IARC is not conveying how dangerous red meat is, they are conveying how certain they are that red meat is dangerous.
These people SUCK as using language. If Group 1 is filled with things that are “carcinogenic to humans”, but this blunt language is accompanied with no mention of risks or odds. Now let’s remember that red meat was classified under Group 2A. They describe this group as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. They’re saying that “there’s a bit of evidence that these things could cause cancer, but we can’t be sure.”. It’s all about that word “probably carcinogenic”. The word “probably” conjures up the specter of individual risk, but the classification isn’t about individuals at all.
Every time the incompetent IARC releases its findings, we don’t even have a frame of reference to understand the importance of them. For example, they’ll come out and say “Each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colon cancer by 18%”. What is the context? 18% OVER WHAT?!?!? Why would they choose to say nothing about how meat compares to stuff in group 1 like Newports and asbestos?!?!
How many cancers are there anyway? About 250. Even if these folks are right about colon cancer, I’ll gladly continue eating my steaks every day if that means my risk for ONE of these cancers is slightly higher. Everything we eat causes cancer. Sort of. We need to start educating people on what RELATIVE RISK means before proselytizing cancer risk based on what we like and what we don’t like.
Here’s another point I’d like to raise. How many cancer studies have been done on people who eat meat EXCLUSIVELY? NONE. There are no carnivore diet cancer studies. The only thing that we know is that tribes such as the Inuit, that have always consumed an all-meat diet, had almost zero rates of cancer until they started smoking. All these dietary studies are done on people who eat a mix of carbohydrates and animal fat, so they can not be used to make assessments on the safety of abiding by a carnivore diet.
With regards to prostate cancer, analysis on 26 studies investigating red meat and processed meat’s role in cancer risk has concluded that “consumption of red or processed meats overall have no association with prostate cancer.”
Why the TMAO Scare is Ridiculous
Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is a controversial compound that research has apparently linked to colon cancer. Red meat has a very high level of choline and L-carnitine (amino acids) which gut bacteria can metabolize into TMAO. Because high TMAO levels correlate with high levels of TMA and DMA (dimethylamine), which can undergo nitrosation which potentially causes cancer, people seem to think that the TMAO produced by eating red meat causes cancer.
Fake news! There is mounting evidence that TMAO has a protective effect against the genesis of cancer because it corrects the mutation of the protein!
There is also more fake news out there about how the high-heat cooking of red meat causes cancer due to the compounds that arise during the cooking process. Heterocyclic amines and polyaromatic hydrocarbons form when meat is cooked at high or smoked. Apparently, these compounds can damage the gut during ingestion and digestion, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers them potentially carcinogenic.
Remember, white meat is cooked too, and these same chemicals are formed! However, few studies have found significant associations between white meat consumption and cancer. The idea of these chemicals giving you cancer after eating your grilled steak sounds like total bullshit.
There is simply not enough reliable scientific research to prove that the cancer risk of eating red meat is worth living a joyless life without red meat.
There are too many health benefits associated with the nutrient-dense superfood of red meat. Remember folks, red meat is the food for optimal health and performance!
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Here are some other posts which summarize the terrific benefits of adhering to an all-meat carnivore diet: