Breast Health Tip #20: Avoid Red Meat

BREAST HEALTH TIP 20: Avoid Red Meat Avoid eating red meat because it substantially increases the risk of breast cancer. Instead, favor a plant-based diet rich in organically grown fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you love the taste of red meat, don’t despair–there are many delicious varieties of vegetable-based meat substitutes with surprisingly similar tastes and textures.

Research has shown beyond a scientific doubt that eating red meat is a serious risk factor for breast cancer. Many studies have shown that women who eat the most red meat have an 88 to 330 percent increased risk of this deadly disease. The numbers were even higher in premenopausal women.

There are four major sources of health dangers in red meat:

The meat of animals is composed primarily of muscle protein, which is made up of smaller subunits known as “amino acids.” It also contains creatine, an important substance that muscles use for energy. As you know, protein and amino acids are essential to health, and so is creatine. However, when animal protein is cooked, especially at high heat, structural changes occur in the protein, amino acids, and creatine—changes that create dangerous new carcinogens. A study from Uruguay found that red-meat protein is associated with a 220 to 770 percent increased risk of breast cancer!

Saturated animal fats (a type of lipid) from red meat and dairy products are poisonous to your body. These lipids make the cells in your body more resistant to insulin. As a result, your insulin levels go up. High insulin levels are lethal. In fact, they are one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer. Research shows that women with the highest insulin levels have a 283 percent greater risk of breast cancer.

There are two other ways that saturated animal fat can raise your risk of
breast cancer, as well. First, saturated animal fat is converted into a carcinogenic substance by the bacteria in your colon. Second, oxygen free radicals have a tendency to attack and damage these types of fats, changing them into powerful stimulators of inflammation, and inflammation fuels the growth of breast cancer. Worse yet, inflammation and oxygen free radicals engage in a deadly dance with each other, each one increasing the numbers and power of the other. Inflammation produces more oxygen free radicals, and oxygen free radicals, in turn, spark the fires of inflammation.

Red meat is a storehouse of concentrated toxins including pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulators. In the United States, livestock are regularly fed and injected with growth hormones and stimulators to make them grow bigger and faster and to increase their production of milk. When a cow is injected with rBGH, its body produces large amounts of insulin-like growth factor–1 (IGF-1). At higher concentrations, IGF-1 is extremely dangerous because it becomes an extraordinarily potent stimulator of breast cancer. In fact, scientists believe it may be the most potent stimulator of breast cancer known. Women with the highest levels of IGF-1 in their bodies have a 700% increased risk of breast cancer! Eating conventionally raised beef and dairy products is the principal way that excessive amounts of IGF-1 get into your body.

Environmental toxins, such as pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and industrial chemicals, accumulate, concentrate and store in animal fat. Many of these toxins have estrogenic effects. In other words, they act like estrogen in the body and accelerate cell division. Many studies have shown that these pesticides can trigger breast cancer and that those women who have high levels of these pesticides in their bodies have a much higher risk of breast cancer.

When red meats are cooked at high temperatures, additional carcinogens known as “heterocyclic amines” are formed. These sinister molecules attack DNA, destroying its vital code in a way that seriously increases the risk of cancer. Frying and grilling are the methods of cooking that use the highest temperatures to cook meat, and they are associated with the highest risk of breast cancer. The higher the cooking temperature, the more carcinogenic heterocyclic amines form. How long you cook your meat makes a difference, too. The more well done your meat is, the more heterocyclic amines it will have, and the more carcinogenic it will be.

Research shows that of the women who eat red meat, those who eat both the most grilled and the most well-done red meat have the highest risk of breast cancer. A study from Vanderbilt University published in 2002 found that women who consumed large amounts of red meat, especially cooked well done, had a significantly higher risk of breast cancer. If the women were also overweight, their risk was even greater. Another study, done at the Medical College of Ohio and published in the journal Carcinogenesis in 1999, found that an enzyme in breast tissue called “N-acetyltransferase” activates the carcinogens in well-done red meat and in cigarette smoke. The study also identified several different subtypes of the N-acetyltransferase enzyme. The risk of breast cancer in women who had one particular subtype of this enzyme was extremely high. The women who had this dangerous subtype and who also smoked, ate a lot of red meat, or ate well-done red meat were found to have a 400 percent higher risk of breast cancer. In short, eating well-done red meat is always risky, but it is exceptionally risky for certain women.

If you love the taste and texture of red meat, don’t think you have to give it up.

The ever-growing and surprisingly delicious vegetable-based meat-substitute cuisine has come a long way. Even committed carnivores will find many of the meat mimickers to be a culinary delight. For instance, my rebellious teenager couldn’t tell the difference between a Boca Burger (made with soy protein) and an actual hamburger! Also, some vegetarians (I, for one) think some meat substitutes taste too much like the real thing!

If you do like the taste of meat, however, there are delicious substitutes for hamburgers, frankfurters, salami, lunchmeats, chicken, turkey, jerky—you name it. The next time you’re at your local health food store, experiment and give one a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Many chain grocery stores carry them, too.

The list below shows some good substitutes for your old meaty favorites.

  • Instead of bacon, try Lightlife Smart Bacon
  • Instead of chicken, try Gardenburger Chik’n Grill or Nate’s Chicken Style Nuggets
  • Instead of hamburgers, try Boca Burgers or Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime
  • Instead of hot dogs, try Yves Veggie Cuisine Good Dog
  • Instead of turkey, try To-furkey

Research shows that the types of foods that support your health the most are fresh whole organic plants—fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. So try to favor these foods.

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Written by Christine Horner MD FACS

Explore Wellness in 2021