Off the back of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) study that found some types of red and processed meat could cause cancer, Chris Bavin is on a mission to find out if any types of meat are safe to eat.
In BBC One’s show ‘The Truth About Meat’, Bavin explores whether it’s possible to have meat in your diet and live a healthy lifestyle free from cancer, heart disease and early death.
He also meets with scientists who have created a special ingredient showing promise in cutting the risk of cancer in processed meat.
Almost a year ago, WHO warned that processed meats such as bacon and sausage were as big a cancer threat as cigarettes.
The health authority placed cured and processed meats in the same category as carcinogenic substances like asbestos, alcohol, arsenic and tobacco, and added that red meat is also “probably” carcinogenic, increasing the risk of bowel cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
According to the report, eating 50g of processed meat a day – that’s one sausage or two rashers of bacon – increases the chance of developing bowel cancer by nearly 20%.
The study meant that meat became “public health enemy number one” and just weeks after the report was published, sales of bacon and pre-packed sausages fell sharply.
In the new show, greengrocer and meat fan Bavin sets out to uncover why processed meats are so bad for us. He visits a butcher at Borough Market who explains the meat preservation process.
It transpires that sodium nitrite, which is used to keep bacteria at bay and reduce risk of serious illness, is at the centre of worries surrounding processed meats and cancer.
As such, scientists are now figuring out ways to combat the negative effects associated with nitrite and have created a special ingredient – rich in plant extracts including green tea – which allows them to safely reduce the amount of nitrite in meats such as sausages.
The extract works to prevent the formation of cancer-forming compounds while also allowing butchers to use half the amount of nitrite in the meat curing process.
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK about the discovery, nutritionist Laura Thomas said that while “cutting back on sodium nitrite might have a positive effect on the risk of colorectal cancer”, without long-term studies there’s no definite way of knowing this.
She added: “There is still a concern with red meat – this new ingredient wouldn’t necessarily prevent the formation of nitrosamines during cooking, which is another concern for the World Health Organisation.
“High-temperature cooking methods generate compounds that may contribute to carcinogenic risk.”
She advises people to not consume more than 70g of red or processed meat per day and encourages adding alternative sources of protein to your diet such as fish, beans or nuts.
‘The Truth About Meat’ airs on BBC One at 9pm, Thursday 29 September.