When the World Health Organization (WHO)’s research division announced last week that processed meat and red meat cause cancer, Tina Colaizzo-Anas, associate professor in Buffalo State’s Health, Nutrition, and Dietetics Department and director of its dietitian education program, was not surprised.
“I’m been teaching the guidelines of avoiding red meat since 2007,” said Colaizzo-Anas, who previously worked a clinical dietitian developing diets for cancer patients. It was in 2007 that the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research released their top 10 recommendations for cancer prevention.
“Limiting your consumption of red meat and avoiding processed meat was among them,” she said. “Since that time, my students have critically reviewed a number of randomized clinical trials that provide biological evidence to support the charge that red meat increases risk for cancer.”
But while earlier studies pointed to a heightened risk of developing cancer when following a meat-heavy diet, the WHO report made a direct correlation between meat, especially processed meat, and cancer. Its panel of 22 international experts reviewed decades’ worth of research to reach this conclusion.
For instance, the WHO analysis indicated that if the association of red meat and colorectal cancer were proven to be causal, the risk would increase by 17 percent for approximately 3.5 ounces of red meat daily while the risk rises by 18 percent for an additional 1.7 ounces of processed meat.
“No one eats just three ounces of red meat in a sitting,” Colaizzo-Anas noted. “It’s usually much more.”
Colaizzo-Anas said the WHO report doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to eliminate red or processed meat entirely, but it should cause people to think about what they eat and what changes they can make to reduce their cancer risk. This includes other lifestyle factors such as exercising regularly, staying as lean as possible, and not smoking.
“You often hear ‘all things in moderation.’ I say moderation in one’s personal modification of diet, meaning if you love red meat, you might not be able to eliminate it all at once, but you can decrease it to a level where you feel comfortable and then continue to decrease it over time as you move toward your goal.”
When you think about your longtime health, consider a hopeful statistic Colaizzo-Anas touts: “If you don’t smoke, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet —one heavy in fresh fruits and vegetables with very little red meat, sugar, and alcohol—you can reduce your cancer risk by 70 percent.”
Those are pretty good odds. However, she realizes not everyone is ready to ditch the hotdogs and lunchmeat. For them, she provided these tips:
The bottom line is that an overall healthy diet reduces your risk not only of cancer, but also of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, even for people with a family history, she said.
“The great thing is it’s basically one diet that decreases your chances of developing all of these chronic diseases.”
About Tina Colaizzo-Anas
Colaizzo-Anas joined the Buffalo State faculty in 1997 and has directed the dietitian education program since 2014. She earned a master of science degree in clinical nutrition from Drexel University, a master of arts in biochemistry from the University at Buffalo, and a doctorate in biochemistry from UB, Roswell Park Cancer Institute division. She is a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the recipient of numerous teaching awards, and has worked as a clinical dietitian at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago; the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; and Presbyterian-University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. Her research interests include the influence of weight management and genetics on indicators of chronic disease including cancer. She publishes in the area of acute care nutrition.
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