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The choice to choose red meat over white meat and even choosing vegetables and soy in place of meat all together has become a growing trend in the United States. Many people have heard the link between red meat and colorectal cancer causing them to morph into vegetarians. In fact, approximately 5 percent or 16 million people are vegetarian now and 33 percent are eating vegan or vegetarian meals more often, even though they do not practice a strict vegetarian diet. These numbers present an interesting question, is there really a scientific link between red meat and colorectal cancer?

What is Red Meat?

 Red meat is considered to be beef, pork, lamb or any combination of these choices.  The recommendation from the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests limiting red meat consumption to 18 ounces or less per week.

What the Studies Show

Studies show that for every 1.7 ounces a day of red meat consumed the chance for colon cancer increases by 21 percent. For every 3.5 ounces a day of red meat consumed the chance for colon cancer increases by 29 percent.  Another study, Cancer Prevention Study II, involved 148,610 adults that showed the group with the highest intake of red or processed red meat had approximately 30 percent to 50 percent respectively, higher risk of developing colon cancer.

So What is the Beef with Red Meat?

One theory according to Harvard Medical School suggested that heterocyclic amines, HCAs, are to blame. Heterocyclic amines are chemicals produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures and they appear to be carcinogenic.  Another theory is that the preservatives that are put into processed red meat such as nitrates are converted into nitrosamines in the body, which can also be carcinogenic.  Scientists from England suggested an additional theory that heme iron, which is found in red meat, can produce genetic damage to the cells in the colon. When it comes to cancer protection, red meat has a few strikes against it.  Red meat is devoid of fibers that has been a proven protective effect on our colon.  Red meat also has a higher saturated fat and heme iron content than poultry or fish, which may also contribute to its bad reputation. 

There’s Good News!           

The good news is that there are ways to cut back or cut out red meat consumption. We have compiled some tips to keep you healthy and satisfied!

  • Save meat-based entrees for special occasions like holidays or once a week dinner night out with friends.
  • Pay attention to the cut of meat.  Choose leaner cuts of red meat.  Look for eye of round roast or steak, sirloin tip side steak, top round roast, bottom round roast or top sirloin.  A piece of red meat is considered lean if the 3.5 ounces serving contains less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol.
  • Pay attention to the serving size. The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests limiting red meat to 18 ounces or less per week.  An appropriate serving size of red meat is 3 ounces cooked, which is the size of a deck of cards; however, the key is to eat less than 18 ounces per week.
  • Think about what foods you eat that includes red meat.  Most dishes can substitute chicken, turkey or fish for meat. For example, hamburger swapped for turkey burgers and tacos with ground burger can also be swapped for fish or black bean tacos.
  • Veggies taste good too! Go for grilled vegetables or a big salad topped with tuna salmon or grilled chicken.
  • Meat substitutes like beans, lentils, nuts, seitan and tofu are great protein options that can be used in many dishes and are easy to cook.


 Seared Tofu with Gingered Vegetables (Serves 4)


     1 pound of extra firm tofu

     1 (3 ½ ounce)  boil-in-bag long grain rice

     3/4 teaspoon of salt, divided

     1 tablespoon of dark sesame oil, divided

     1 tablespoon of bottled minced garlic

     1 tablespoon of bottled ground fresh ginger, such as Spice World

     1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced

     1 cup of sliced green onions, divided

     2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

     1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce

     Cooking spray

     1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

     1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, toasted

     1 cup of radish sprouts


Place tofu on several layers of paper towels; let it stand for 10 minutes. Cut tofu into 1 inch cubes.

Prepare rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to rice; fluff with a fork.

Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger and bell pepper to pan; saute for three minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup of onions, vinegar and soy sauce; cook for 30 seconds. Remove from pan. Wipe skillet with paper towels; re-coat pan with cooking spray.

Place pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle tofu with remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and black pepper. Add tofu to pan; cook 8 minutes or until golden, turning brown on all sides. Return bell pepper mixture to pan and cook for one minute or until thoroughly heated. Drizzle tofu mixture with remaining 1 teaspoon of oil, top with sesame seeds. Serve tofu mixture with rice, sprouts and the remaining 1/4 cup of onions.

Fish Tacos with Cabbage Slaw (Serves 4)


     4 cups of thin pre-sliced green cabbage

     1 cup of chopped plum tomatoes

     1/3 cup of thinly sliced green onions

     1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro

     2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice

     5 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided

     1/2 teaspoon of salt, divided

     1 pound of tilapia fillets

     1 teaspoon of chili powder

     8 (6-inch) corn tortillas


Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add juice, 1 tablespoon of oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt; toss well to combine.

Heat remains 2 teaspoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly with chili powder and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt; add fish to pan. Cook three minutes on each side until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from heat and cut fish into bite-sized pieces.

Warm tortillas according to the package directions. Spoon about 1/4 cup of cabbage mixture down the center of each tortilla. Divide fish evenly among tortillas, fold in half. Serve tacos with remaining cabbage mixture.

*You can add guacamole or salsa to these for even more flavor as well as opting for whole wheat tortillas to get some added fiber.

Angela Hummel

Angela Hummel, specialist in oncology nutrition at Meals to Heal.

Angela Hummel a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition at  Meals to Heal. She is passionate about helping people meet the many challenges of managing health throughout cancer treatment. Angela studied nutrition at Central Michigan University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree, dietetic internship and master’s degree. She has worked in the inpatient, outpatient and community oncology settings for many years. Currently, she is part of the clinical team at Meals to Heal where she counsels people on oncology nutrition and contributes to clinical website and other Meals to Heal content.

Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance  serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have questions or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help!




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