Whether in your backyard or a designated area of one of New York City’s parks, the sound and smell of sausages, hamburgers and steak sizzling on the grill is the epitome of summer for many people. Summer is a time for relaxation and, during these warmer months, we tend to be a little more lax on our diets, often reaching for a second cheeseburger instead of grilled vegetables.
However, a new review published last month from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) may convince many people to put down the hotdog. This comprehensive review of more than 1,000 studies analyzed the correlation between the consumption of red and processed meats and colon cancer. The independent panel reviewing the data agreed that evidence remains convincing for red meats and processed meats as significant risk factors for the development of colorectal cancer.
The research found that:
- People who eat 3.5 ounces (1 serving) of red meat every day increase their risk of colorectal cancer by 17% compared to those who refrain from red meat.
- People who eat 3.5 ounces of processed meat daily (hot dogs, cured meats, sausages, etc) will have a 36% increased risk of colorectal cancer compared to those who do not eat processed meat at all.
- The more red and processed meat a person consumed, the higher their colorectal cancer risk.
- AICR has estimated that about 45% (or over 64,000 cases in the US/year) of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented if implemented healthy lifestyle changes such as drinking less alcohol, increasing exercise frequency, consuming more fiber–rich plant foods, and eating less meat.
While Dr. Anna Serur, Director of Colorectal Surgery, believes that more studies are necessary, she acknowledges that the results of this review are not surprising. “Gastroenterologists recommend that patients eat a high fiber, low fat diet, as well as maintain an active lifestyle, as a way to reduce their risk,” she states. Dr. Serur recommends that the average person eat about 25-30 grams of fiber a day, while exercising for at least 20 minutes 3-4 times a week.
Dr. Yuriy Tsirlin, Assistant Director of the Gastroenterology Fellowship Program, notes that body fat content, especially abdominal fat, is a risk factor for developing colorectal cancer. “There are factors that can actually reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, especially eating foods containing plant fiber,” states Dr. Tsirlin. “The key here is moderation with red and processed meats, allowing for more space on your plate for fruits and vegetables.”
While diet and exercise are helpful, Dr. Serur maintains that the most important step in prevention remains adequate screening. “At Maimonides, we offer colonoscopy screenings to all Brooklyn residents, regardless of their insurance status or financial means,” she states. And, if cancer is found, Maimonides offers the latest surgical techniques in the treatment of colon and rectal cancer, including minimally invasive and robotic surgery.
Does this mean you have to forgo your beloved barbecued red meats? No. Just try to limit yourself to no more than 18 oz. a week, substituting leaner proteins like poultry and fish. A useful tip to help visualize the correct serving size? A single serving of meat (around 3 oz.) is about the size of one deck of cards.