For most of my life I have preferred to eat things without a face or a mother, while my husband eats brown and white foods like steak, milk, hamburgers and ice cream. Oh, and let’s not forget his coffee and chocolate. Dinner at our house usually consists of two distinct meals. While my plate is piled high with brown rice, black beans, lightly roasted vegetables and Whole Foods’ Seduction bread—my favorite—my husband’s plate consists of a blackened piece of meat, the consistency of old shoe leather, and maybe a spoonful of rice and beans. If I suggest he try some of my vegetables and salad, he looks at me like I’ve asked him to eat tree bark and rutabaga and frequently says, “What are you? A communist?” No, and I am not a vegan or a vegetarian, either.
While my life-long diet did not prevent me from having breast cancer, I am hoping it will be a powerful ally in my quest to reduce risk of recurrence. Research shows 30 to 50 percent of cancers are nutrition-related, either from over nutrition (excess calories, fat or protein), or under-nutrition (too few calories, vitamins and minerals). For this discussion I am only focusing on red meat, saving other byproducts of foods with a face or a mother, like milk, butter and ice cream for another day.
Studies have shown red meat is associated with an increase in overall mortality, as well as cancer and cardiovascular problems in both men and women. Red meat is high in protein, which we all need, but it is also high in saturated fat, which has been associated with breast and colorectal cancer, plus it raises cholesterol. In addition, the process of cooking meat generates cancer-causing compounds. Red meat can also contain added growth hormones, which may be linked to the rising incidence of hormone-receptor breast cancer.
A Harvard Medical School study suggested eating more than 100g, or roughly one quarter pound of red meat a day, could double the risk of a woman developing breast cancer. This risk was associated with women who had not gone through menopause. If a lifetime exposure to estrogen affect’s a woman’s risk of breast cancer, it could be that years of eating meat with growth hormones may react the same way. According to another study, published by the American Cancer Society, people who eat 3 or more ounces of red meat per day, which is equivalent to the amount of meat in a hamburger, are 30-40 percent more likely to develop cancer in the lower part of the colon. Red meat stays in your colon longer than beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and one of the best ways to have a healthy immune system is by keeping your bowels moving on a daily basis.
Every day we hear about another link to breast cancer. Many of these factors, like family history, are out of our control, but if there is something we can do to lower our risk, why wouldn’t we go for it? If you just finished a juicy cheeseburger, don’t worry. Instead, think about how many times a week you eat red meat and look for alternatives like chicken, fish, beans or nuts.
Intellectually I understand the whole meat-eater ancestry thing, but with my love for nuts, I sometimes wonder if I am descended from an unknown species related to birds and squirrels. By the way, American Meat Institute, don’t even think about pulling an Oprah lawsuit on me. Invite me to dinner at Ruth’s Chris for prime beef tenderloin, and I’ll have my napkin unfolded before you’re even seated.