Hold the Bacon? New Studies Link Red Meat and Cancer

by Jack Melanson, Staff Writer

A meat lover’s diet took a serious hit in the last few weeks after reports were published that eating red meat can cause cancer.

On Oct. 26, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, also known as the  IARC, provided a report on the relationship between red meat and cancer. In the report, it simply states that red meat does cause cancer.

Brian Conway, director of Gourmet Dining Services at Manhattan College, spoke about the issue and said Gourmet Dining did consider changing its campus menu as a result.

“What I gather from the things that I’ve read, it seems like more of a precautionary thing,” Conway said. “While they [IARC] might classify it in the same category as cigarettes or even asbestos, it’s hard to determine whether it’s life factors and the meat, or just the meat that’s causing the colorectal cancer.”

“We all [Gourmet Dining] sat down and we talked about if we want to remove some of the red meats from our menus,”  Conway said. “It comes back to choices, I mean, the individuals [choice to eat red meat or not].”

The college’s registered dietitian, Rayna Herskowitz, works with Gourmet Dining on campus in planning meals for students with dietary restrictions or goals.

“The ‘new’ news on the link between red meat consumption and the risk of cancer is actually not very new,” Herskowitz said. “The evidence has been around for quite some time now.  In fact, limiting red meat has always been a suggestion for a healthy diet.”

Brian Conway also shared a similar idea.

“It’s about variety with any kind of issue,” Conway said. “I think moderation for all things is probably the best way that we can teach students and our own families on what is healthy and what isn’t.”

“One piece of candy isn’t going to kill you, but if it’s the staple of your diet it’s going to become a problem,” Conway said. “Just like one piece of red meat isn’t going to kill you, but if it’s the staple of your diet it’s going to become a problem.”

A further explanation of the science behind the reports was provided by Herskowitz.

“The categories placed on research are based on the amount of evidence provided,” she said. “In terms of meat being carcinogenic to humans, processed meat was classified as Group 1 and red meat was classified as group 2A.  Group 1 is defined as carcinogenic to humans, whereas group 2A is probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Herskowitz also explained how one could still ensure that they are living a healthy lifestyle with this knowledge on carcinogenic red meats.

As with many things, it’s all about balance. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces a week and to avoid processed meats,” she said.

This is something that shouldn’t be hard to do with Gourmet Dining’s plans to improve the health of their food and offerings in Locke’s Loft.

“We do a ‘Meatless-Monday’ at some stations… but maybe we should enhance this and be meatless most days,” Conway said, but not at every station. “There is going to be red meat every day because that’s just a part of the program…You can’t really take it away, but you have to offer something else with it.”

But not everyone is particularly worried about IARC’s reports.

“Red meat being a carcinogen won’t change anything because I eat a lot of things that are bad and allegedly carcinogenic,” freshman Annie King said. “But I’m still alive and breathing.”

Conway mentioned that fearless behavior was common among college kids, and that worrying about the food going into their bodies tends to happen later in life. Conway too shared how he has made changes to his diet knowing that too much meat can be unhealthy.

Like King, many students enjoy eating red meat on campus, regardless of the health factors.

Conway, while expressing the need for moderation, understands this demand.

“Red meat is expensive. Would I prefer to go other ways? I would. But it’s the protein factor here, the proven energy you get from protein,” he said. “It’s a lot about the way you prepare the meat too, we get a lot of fresh things here… things aren’t sitting around.”

“So what should we do from here?,”  said dietitian Herskowitz, “Surprisingly enough, other common items are placed in the Group 1 category as well, including alcohol and outside air pollution…  You can consume red meat in moderation.”

“Here at MC I look forward to holding meetings with students who are interested to talk about this topic further,” Herskowitz said.