Does Red Meat Really Cause Cancer?

This week a study came out suggesting that 25g per day of processed meat and or 50g per day of red meat can contribute to the risk of bowel cancer. It might seem that there’s a new scare mongering headline every week. Whilst we shouldn’t take each headline as hard fact there are often important messages which we can take away from the studies.

Before I give you the take home messages I want to give you a little bit of background information on the study. The study was conducted on nearly 500,000 people this is a really good population number. The dietary intakes were measured by using a food frequency questionnaire and one 24-hour dietary recall. There are some problems with these techniques as they’re based on memory. People are often not really aware of exactly what they’re eating which can make precision challenging. Although there were many confounding factors which were accounted for. Smoking, physical activity, family history, supplements, alcohol consumption, menopause and HRT use were a few of the confounders which were taken into account.

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So the findings suggest that red and processed meat intakes above 50g and 25g per day (respectively) can increase the risk of bowel cancer…. But what can we take away from this?

1.       We shouldn’t categorise both red and processed meat in order to demonise both. As a population we are consuming too much processed meat and should aim to limit it where possible although when it comes to good quality red meat there are some health benefits.

2.       Good quality red meat is rich in nutrients such as iron, zinc and B12. Iron found in animal products is much more bioavailable. This means the iron can be more absorbed and utilised than iron from plant-based sources. B12 is really difficult to get from plant sources and so must be consumed from animal sources. Although if you’re following a vegan diet then you may wish to supplement.

3.       The research also showed the adequate fibre intake was associated with a reduced risk of bowel cancer. The majority of the population are only reaching around 18g of fibre per day when the recommendations for the daily intake is 30g. Focus on increasing your intakes of beans, pulses, fruits, vegetables and wholegrains to help increase your fibre intake.

Whilst there are no conclusive explanations for the association between red and processed meat and cancer intake one explanation may be due to the nitrates/nitrites. Nitrates/ nitrites are chemical compounds used to preserve red and processed meat. They’re the compound which provides the deep red colour. They have a slow transit time which means they lurk in the bowel and it said that this can increase risk. As a result the high fibre intake speeds up transit time which may be one explanation as to why fibre helps to reduce the risk.

Another explanation suggests that the processing techniques e.g. smoking, preservatives and high heating temperatures may impact bowel cancer risk.

Overall try limiting your processed meats, focus on consuming one portion of good quality meat per week and increase your fibre intake to help reduce the risks associated with bowel cancer.

5 Foods To Support Your Bone Health

 Following on from reading this title I know exactly what you’re expecting… Milk, cheese, yoghurt… Essentially all the key foods known for their calcium content. You’re not wrong calcium is vital for supporting bone health although it doesn’t work alone. There are a range of other nutrients which are essential in maintaining a healthy bone function. Vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium are all also vital for supporting your skeleton.

So which foods should you be consuming to help maintain longevity and strong bones?

Almonds
Almonds are a great source of plant based calcium which as you know is vital for bone function. They’re also high in magnesium which is required for bone strength. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and increased low-grade inflammation. If you’re consuming almond milk then opt for fortified varieties to ensure adequate vitamin D and B12 too. Alternatively you can consume almonds as a snack, in baked goods or straight off the spoon in the form of almond butter!

Eggs and salmon
Eggs and salmon are both sources of vitamin D (a nutrient which is really challenging to get through the diet alone). Vitamin D is required for the absorption and utilisation of calcium. This means that even if you’re eating adequate calcium levels and your vitamin D levels are low you’re still at risk of poor bone health if your calcium cannot be used.

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Green leafy vegetables
You’ve got a triple whammy with this one! Green leafy vegetables are a source of vitamin K, calcium and magnesium. Vitamin K is required for bone metabolism and the utilisation of osteocalcin, a key protein required in bone function. Research has shown that adequate vitamin K status can be protective against bone fractures. Ensure you’re consuming at least one to two portions of green leafy vegetables per day.

Chickpeas
Chickpeas are another source of plant-based calcium to help support your bones. They’re also rich in prebiotic fibres for a healthy gut function too. Try making them into hummus, adding them to soups, salads or even brownies!

Tofu
Tofu is a source of lean protein to help support strength alongside calcium. You can scramble it with turmeric for breakfast, add it to stir frys or marinade it for skewers.

There you have a few key foods which can help support your bone health. It is really important to ensure that you’re getting a wide range of foods in so be sure to mix it up!

Dealing With Sugar Cravings

Let’s face it sugar cravings are something which we all experience from time to time although some deal with these cravings more regularly than others.

Firstly, whilst this article is here to provide you with some top tips for sugar cravings you should also know that to some degree it’s totally normal. It’s really important to become aware of your cravings and your blood sugar levels in order to identify when it becomes a problem at which point you should look for some more personalised help.

In order to understand how to manage your cravings let’s first look at when and why cravings can occur.

1.     Unbalanced blood sugar levels

If you’re on a constant blood sugar rollercoaster your blood sugar levels are going to be continuously spiking and crashing. When your blood sugar levels fall very low you’re more likely to crave higher sugar foods.

2.     Habit

Habits are another reason why you might crave certain foods at certain times. If you’ve conditioned your brain into buying a chocolate every time you pass the newspaper stand at the station or fill up with petrol you’ll be more likely to crave when you’re presented with your triggers. You’d also be amazed at how quickly habits can form without you even realising. If you’re noticing that you always pick up a coffee and muffin on your way home then start to break your triggers by walking a different route.

3.     Severe food restriction

When you restrict your food intake naturally, you’re more likely to crave foods which will provide fast releasing energy (read: sugar).

4.     Emotional hunger
If you’re someone who turns to food in times of stress, anxiety or even joy then you’re much more likely to crave certain foods in response to your mood changes.

5.     Hormonal changes
Sometimes at certain times of the month the only thing which is going to make you happy is chocolate. My advice to you during these times. Eat it and enjoy it… Every single bite!

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These may all sound familiar in certain situations but what can you do about them? Before you read on, you should know that sometimes (even when it’s not a set time of the month) the only thing which will satisfy your craving is to eat the chocolate that’s been staring you in the face and that’s absolutely FINE!!!

For other times when you’re trying to manage more regular cravings here are my top tips for doing so:

1.     Balance your blood sugar levels
Start balancing your blood sugar levels. You can do this by eating healthy balanced meals little and often. Ensure you have a source of protein at each meal or snack to help balance your blood sugar levels. E.g. eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, meat, fish, nut butter etc. 

2.     Notice your habits
Start noticing the patterns in your habits and trying to break behaviours. E.g. as mentioned above walk another route home, avoid walking straight into the kitchen when you get home or avoid eating in the car.

3.     Share your emotions
If you’re suppressing your emotions or not talking to someone about something this can often come out through your cravings. Ensure that you’re being honest and open with yourself and those around you.

4.     Always be prepared
Avoid your blood sugar getting too low by always being prepared with a few nuts or roasted beans to help with those hunger pangs when they pop up.

5.     Switch up your routine
If you’re someone who craves sweet food in front of the TV after dinner then why not switch up your routine… Go for a walk, call a friend or have a bath. Switching up your routine can help to break those triggers which you’ve programmed your brain to respond to.

 

Those are my top tips for helping to manage your sugar cravings. Should you feel that your cravings are less manageable and are having an impact on your life and your relationship with food then please seek professional advice or feel free to get in touch at jennahope@jennahopenutrition.com