Reducing Colorectal Cancer Risk by Cutting Red Meat

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The latest research shows that eating more than 12 to 18 ounces of red meat per week increases the risk of colorectal cancer. AICR recommends limiting the amount of red and processed meat in your diet to reduce the risk of cancer. When you hear this recommendation, it may be hard to imagine what else you would eat if these are currently mainstays in most of your meals. If you have been eating beef, lamb and pork beyond the recommended limit of 12 to 18 ounces a week – which is about 4 to 6 deck-of-cards sized portions – perhaps it seems like your only alternative is eating more poultry. But here are a few tips on cutting back on that red meat from your daily diet.

“The good news: if you enjoy red meat as a regular part of your diet, recommendations don’t call for completely giving it up”

Adding fish twice a week
AICR’s Third Expert Report notes limited evidence linking fish consumption with lower risk of liver and colorectal cancer. This evidence is not currently strong enough to choose fish specifically for lower cancer risk, but heart-health recommendations call for eating eight ounces a week, and research supports a link to brain health, too. For health, think beyond breaded, deep-fried fish as your choice.

“Switch your focus from what you give up by cutting back on red meat to delicious meal choices you may have been overlooking”

  • Seafood like clams and scallops are traditional favorites in pasta sauce. Experiment with other fish options, too, instead of making meat sauce your standard.
  • Enjoy your tacos with shrimp or a white fish like tilapia or cod instead of meat. Bake fish one night for dinner, and make a little extra so it’s ready for dishes like this in the next three to four days.
  • Expand your grilling choices. Fish with a firmer texture, like salmon, trout, mahi mahi and catfish are especially good. Try kebabs made with scallops. More delicate fish, like tilapia or haddock, can be grilled, too, if you put them on foil or one of the thin planks used in grilling.

Tips: Stock up on shelf-stable options like pouches and cans when you see a sale. Frozen seafood is often a better value than fresh, and even better when bags of individual pieces go on sale.
– Fish in cans and pouches are convenient to pack for lunch or add to salads and sandwiches in minutes.
– If you need meals in a hurry, seafood is perfect. The general rule is to cook fresh or thawed frozen fish about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. If you forget to put frozen fish in the refrigerator in the morning to thaw by dinner, you can cook from frozen. Just rinse under cold water to remove any icy glaze, pat dry with a paper towel, and allow up to double the cooking time.

Choosing pulses and soyfoods
For generations, dried beans and peas, lentils, and soyfoods have been part of eating patterns linked with better health and longevity. Few foods can equal their dietary fiber, which is a key element for lower risk of colorectal cancer, and also a plus for heart health and managing type 2 diabetes. Pulses, like dried beans and lentils, contain certain carbohydrates that are prebiotics, which means they support particular gut bacteria that seem to be anti-inflammatory and health-protective.

  • Replace ground meat in tacos and burritos with black beans or kidney beans, or at least a mixture of beans and meat.
  • Whether your salad is a main dish or side dish, take an international inspiration and add chickpeas, lentils, black beans, or edamame.
  • For something hearty with your eggs, instead of sausage or bacon, savor black or kidney beans stirred into salsa as a topping or side.
  • Replace the meat or sausage in your pasta sauce with cannellini or other white beans.
  • For snacks or appetizers, oven-roasted chickpeas – baked to a nut-like crunchiness – are a trendy and tasty alternative to jerky, processed meat antipasto, or charcuterie boards.

Tips: Swapping pulses for meat provides protein at a much lower cost. And if time is tight, these options take less time than cooking dried beans from scratch:

– Canned beans are a secret weapon to keep on hand for meals in a flash. Choose those with no added salt when you can, or pour into a sieve and rinse with water to substantially reduce sodium.

– Lentils don’t require any advance soaking and cook in 20 minutes.

– You can keep a cooked-ahead batch or opened can of beans up to 5 days in the refrigerator or 6 months in the freezer.

Flipping your meal’s proportions

If you want to eat red meat more than just once or twice a week and have been choosing large 8 to 16-ounce portions, you can do this if you reduce your portions. That doesn’t mean going hungry if you swap the excess for other foods – preferably nutrient-rich choices that support a healthy diet.

Cut meat portions down to little more than the size of a deck of cards. Include small amounts of sliced, cubed or ground meat in a stir-fry, stew, chili or mixed dish, and add other protein sources to round out flavor and nutrition. Cubed tofu is a super-quick addition to a stir-fry and soaks up the flavors of your sauce. Dried beans combine with small amounts of meat in many classic Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Latin American soups, stews and pasta dishes.

Karen Collins

Author: Karen Collins

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, is AICR’s Nutrition Advisor. Karen is a speaker, writer and consultant who specializes in helping people make sense of nutrition news. You can follow her blog, Smart Bytes®, through her website and follow her on Twitter @KarenCollinsRD and Facebook @KarenCollinsNutrition.

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