2.3 Beef and Human Health and Wellness

Does red meat cause cancer?

While it’s not known what causes most cancers, it is known that things like smoking, age, family history and the foods we eat can play a role in the development of some cancers. Research shows that diet may play a role in cancers such as colon, breast and prostate.  No single food item causes or prevents cancer; however, a balanced eating pattern including lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grain products seems to have the strongest link with reducing risk of some cancers.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently released findings which classified consumption of red meat in Group 2A, or “probably carcinogenic to humans,” which refers to a degree of certainty of causation.

Based on years of scientific evidence no one single food – including red and processed meat can cause or cure any type of cancer.  Within the science is there is no causal relationship between red and processed meat consumption and cancer. There are many theories why red and processed meat may be linked to cancer however it’s important to note that no scientific consensus has been reached.

It is important to note that IARC conducts hazard assessments, not risk assessments. That means they consider whether meat at some level, under some circumstance could pose a risk. IARC has found hazards in about half of the agents it has reviewed.

Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s Statement on IARC Review of Red Meat and Processed Meat

Canada Beef’s Take on the IARC Review of Red Meat and Processed Meat

Does red meat cause cancer?


Are humans designed to eat meat?

Some people are convinced that humans are naturally herbivores like our primate ancestors, however humans and pre-humans have been eating meat for a very long time and our bodies are well adapted to meat consumption.

 

We have short colons, long small intestines and lots of hydrochloric acid in the stomach to help break down animal protein.  The length of different parts of our digestive system is somewhere in between the lengths typical for both carnivores and herbivores, indicating that humans are “designed” to be omnivores (http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/miltonlab/pdfs/meateating.pdf).

 

Humans are well equipped to make full use of the nutrients found in meat. Our digestive system reflects a genetic adaptation to an omnivorous diet, with animal foods as a major source of calories.

 

Beef is one of the richest sources of complete protein. Unlike most plant proteins, beef delivers the full nine essential amino acids in the amounts your body needs to build and repair itself. Protein is critical throughout the life cycle: for growth in childhood, for energy and vitality in adulthood and for healthy aging later in life.

 

It is often claimed that meat is unnecessary for health. While most of the nutrients in it can be found in other animal foods and just because we can survive without it, it doesn’t mean that we should.  Beef has many nutrients that are good for us. This includes quality protein, vitamin B12, creatine, carnosine, heme-iron and various important fat-soluble vitamins. Humans can live without meat but we may not reach optimum health, making use of all the beneficial nutrients that nature has provided. Although we can survive without meat, the same could be said of most other food groups, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, eggs and more.  In that case, one would just eat more of something else instead. Beef contains most of the nutrients we need.

Nutrition Facts About Beef

Are humans designed to eat meat?


Is grass finished beef more nutritious than grain finished beef? What about organic beef?

All beef provides 14 essential nutrients. Preliminary studies have shown that grass fed beef has slightly elevated levels of Vitamins A and E, Omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), but beef has relatively low levels of Omega fatty acids when compared to other proteins like fish.  The increased levels in grass fed beef are not significant enough to receive a claim from Health Canada.

To meet consumer preferences, beef is produced both organically and by conventional methods. Although there are differences in the way organic beef is produced and in the retail price, both organic and conventional beef are of high quality, nutritious and safe.

Organic beef production must meet requirements set out in the National Standard for Organic Agriculture.

Research on the healthfulness of organic beef versus conventional beef is limited. There has been an increasing amount of research on the health benefits of an organic diet; however, the majority of this research has focused on organic produce. Evidence does not support improved nutrient values for organic foods at this time.  Lab tests have not found substantial nutritional differences and blind taste tests found consumers generally cannot tell the difference between organic and conventionally produced foods.

Both organic and conventional beef are a nutritious part of healthy eating; for consumers, it is a personal choice.

Canada Beef’s Fact Sheet on Organic Beef

BCRC Blog Post: Q & A on Conventional Beef

Is grass finished beef more nutritious than grain finished beef? What about organic beef?


Is mechanically tenderized beef safe?

By the time beef reaches home and restaurant kitchens, it has been through a significant number of federally regulated safety steps designed to reduce the possibility of foodborne bacteria.

On the farm, healthy cattle are the foundation for safe beef. In slaughter and processing plants, many steps are taken to remove any possible contamination. At restaurants, food is stored and prepared according to laws, enforced through inspections by health authorities. Additional measures like surface trimming may be used on beef that’s going to be tenderized. Testing is used to validate the effectiveness of these steps and identify opportunities for improvement.

Advancements in beef aging times, fabrication methods and using techniques such as mechanical tenderization, help provide tender beef to consumers. Meat has been tenderized by hand in kitchens for generations. Today’s beef industry uses a similar technique on a broader scale – mechanical tenderization – to offer more consistently tender beef options to more consumers. Tenderization may mean a better consumer experience with sirloin, for example, which is a naturally lean and nutritious but a little less tender cut.

Demystifying Mechanically Tenderized Meat

Is mechanically tenderized beef safe?


Is it OK to thaw meat on the counter?

No.  Canada Beef measured the internal temperature of roasts and steaks sitting on the counter and found this practice created food safety risks that far outweighed any small quality benefits – even with a standing time of just 15 minutes. So just say NO – keep meat refrigerated prior to cooking. Don’t bring meats up to room temperature before grilling or thaw at room temperature. This is a common ‘cooking show’ recommendation that really has no benefits and is loaded with the risk of promoting the growth of harmful bacteria. Keep foods chilled in the fridge at 4°C until ready to cook – and that includes marinating too.

Basic safe food handling practices for the home Four Simple Steps

Is it OK to thaw meat on the counter?


Can I wash the bacteria off the meat?

Rinsing meat with water can increase your chance of food poisoning by splashing juices and bacteria onto your sink and counters. The best way to cook meat, poultry, or seafood safely is to make sure you cook it to the right temperature, according to Health Canada’s guidelines.

Can I wash the bacteria off the meat?