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The Facts About Red Meat and Cancer

August 10, 2011

It’s time to take a break from the fun, games, and food (not for long) to talk about something that has been on my “plate” this week. To preface, I knew working in the beef industry would raise eyebrows among fellow health professionals. Not everyone is a beef eater- much to my chagrin. However, I feel it’s my duty to share accurate information about the nutritional advantages of eating beef, which support the messages in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

So what’s my beef this week? Cancer. More specifically red meat and cancer. If you want to Google this topic and see what reports and studies have been conducted, you may find yourself with an internet overload headache. As a consumer (and health professional), understanding the relationship between diet and chronic disease is challenging. There are a variety of causes and risk factors associated with cancer. If we could point our finger at the “bad guy,” aka the cause, we would (ex. lung cancer and smoking). So here I am, to tell you the red meat side of this story, and to hopefully shed some light on this myth.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease. When the word cancer is brought up in conversation, sadness is quickly overshadowed with questions of why and how. Answers to these questions are usually unknown, though as a society we know that lifestyle and health may play a major role in the development of this chronic disease.


Cancer is a group of many related diseases that all have to do with cells. Our bodies are made up of living cells. Normal body cells grow and divide. They know when and how to stop growing. Over time, they also die. Unlike these normal cells, cancer cells continue to grow and divide out of control and instead of dying, cancer cells continue to grow and form new, abnormal cells. Cancer cells can also invade other tissues, something that normal cells do not do. Growing out of control and invading other tissues are what makes a cell a cancer cell.


The beef industry has a long-standing commitment to nutrition research that helps advance the understanding of the role of beef and beef’s nutrients in a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Since the 1920s, the beef industry has funded research to help understand beef’s place in a healthful diet and expand the base of nutrition knowledge. We want to be the first to know about the role of beef in a healthy diet and disease prevention so we can responsibly communicate science-based information to consumers and health professionals. As a result of this commitment to consumers and their health, we have commissioned an objective scientific assessment on this topic.

A team of leading experts recently completed a comprehensive and extensive analysis called “An Assessment of Red Meat and Cancer Risk” which reviewed multiple scientific studies involving red meat and six types of cancers. Based on their examination of the literature, the experts concluded that the available scientific evidence is not supportive of a cause and effect association between red meat consumption and cancer. As is often the case with epidemiological research on this subject, it is hard to draw conclusions about any one food and its relationship to disease. Individual foods should not be considered in isolation, when it comes to optimal health and disease prevention.

The science is clear about the important steps we can all take to help decrease cancer risk: don’t smoke, use alcohol responsibly, be physically active, maintain a healthy weight, and follow a diet consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats.


A substantial body of evidence shows the nutrients in red meat, such as protein, iron, and B-vitamins, help maintain a healthy weight, build muscle and fuel physical activity – all of which play an important role in a healthful lifestyle and disease prevention. We do know that many people are overfed, yet undernourished, so it’s increasingly important for people to follow the 2010 Dietary Guidelines to “get more nutrition from their calories,” and eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods within and among all food groups. In fact, a three-ounce portion of lean beef is only 179 calories on average.

As a registered dietitian and avid cook, I am confident about feeding beef to my family and friends. As a natural source of 10 essential nutrients, beef’s nutrient contribution is valuable to the American Diet. The proven health benefits of eating beef far outweigh any of the scientific data on red meat and cancer. Cancer is a complex disease, and research continues to indicate there is no one dietary factor associated with increased cancer risk. Preventative lifestyle measures such as not smoking, responsible alcohol use, being physically active and eating healthfully are much more important to reducing cancer risk than eliminating any one food from your diet.


Alexander, Dominik D.. ” Beef Research – Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption and Cancer.” Beef Research – Home. The Beef Checkoff, 2010. Web. 9 Aug. 2011. <>.

” What Is Cancer? – National Cancer Institute.” Comprehensive Cancer Information – National Cancer Institute. National Cancer Institute, n.d. Web. 9 Aug. 2011. <;.

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