To Eat or Not To Eat: Red Meat And The Risk of Esophageal Cancer

Making good choices is important for living a long and healthy life. For acid reflux/GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) sufferers, the consequences of poor dietary decisions – like an over indulgence of fried foods or eating large meals – are often painful symptoms that guide you to better habits. However, some sustenance is more stealth, giving no indication of the possible danger that lies ahead.

One such fare that’s silent for some but a trigger for others is red meat. Under the microscope for several years now, this nutrient-rich food reports a higher incident of early mortality, from causes like cancer and cardiovascular disease. While there are benefits such as heme iron, which is easily absorbed by the body, vitamin B12 and zinc, the concerns prompt many to restrict red meat intake.

Of particular interest is a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology that investigated the connection between red meat and, specifically, esophageal cancer. The study concluded a significant link – in fact, the cancer risk is 38% higher when consuming larger amounts of red meat. It’s a discovery that may make you think twice about that steak on your plate.

While the findings suggest a serious downside to eating a lot of beef, lamb and pork, the upside is the potential nutrient to calorie ratio. For example, a 3-ounce serving of lean beef offers 10 essential nutrients with only 180 calories. Keep in mind that 3-ounces is about the size of a deck of cards and most restaurants serve portions ranging from 6-ounces to 14-ounces.

With moderation as the key, here are a few things to consider when including red meat in your diet: 

  • look for cuts which include ‘lean’ in the label (meats can be labeled as lean if a 3-ounce serving contains less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol)
  • look for ‘loin’ in the name – sirloin tip steak, top sirloin, pork tenderloin, lamb loin chops avoid high-temperature cooking which can generate heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that may increase cancer risk
  • eat 18-ounces or less of cooked red meat per week which is the recommended guideline from the American for Cancer Research (AICR)
  • avoid processed meats, such as deli meats, ham, bacon, hot dogs and sausages as recommended by the AICR

Most importantly, be aware of how eating red meat makes you feel. If you have heartburn or experience other acid reflux symptoms when consuming beef, lamb or pork, then it’s best to find other nutritious alternatives.

Making good choices, while keeping your reflux in check, will go a long way towards a long and healthy life.

References:

1. Jung Eun Lee, ScD, Yuni Choi, Sujin Song, Yoonju Song. “Consumption of red and processed meat and esophageal cancer risk: Meta-analysis”. World J Gastroenterol 19(7): 1020-1029ISSN 1007-9327. February 21, 2013.

2. WebMD “The Truth About Red Meat”. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-tr... August 29, 2011.

3. Dean Ornish, MD. “Holy Cow! What’s Good for You Is Good for Our Planet”. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.174. March 12, 2012.