With the lifelong meat-eating habit that most of us have, it may be hard to consider becoming a vegetarian. Those who eat no meat are still a very small number of Americans, just over 3 percent, according to estimates. But more and more people are leaning toward eating less meat – undoubtedly because of the life-threatening health risks associated with it: an increased likelihood of heart disease and colon cancer. And now, there’s a new study that might strengthen your resolve to change your ways. It turns out people who eat lots of red meat increase their risk of kidney cancer.
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, MD, found that middle-aged adults who ate the most red meat were 19 percent more likely to be diagnosed with kidney cancer than those who ate the least.
Experts analyzed data from a study of close to 500,000 U.S. adults, age 50 and older, who were surveyed on their dietary habits, including meat consumption, and then followed for an average of nine years to track any new cancer diagnoses.
On average, men in the study ate two or three ounces of red meat per day, compared to one or two ounces among women. Participants with the highest consumption of red meat—about four ounces per day—were 19 percent more likely to be diagnosed with kidney cancer than those who ate the smallest amount, less than one ounce per day.
People who ate the most well-done grilled and barbecued meat -- and therefore had the highest exposure to carcinogenic chemicals that come out of the cooking process -- also had an extra risk of kidney cancer compared to those who didn't cook much meat that way.
Even though red meat is an important source of iron and protein, there are other ways to get it. For example, spinach is one of best sources of iron available, as are Swiss chard and turnip greens. Lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas and soybeans are the good sources in the legume family. What about protein? Excellent sources include tofu, nuts, peanut butter, yogurt, cheese, avocado – just to name a few options.
If you’re not interested in becoming a vegetarian, you may want to moderate your diet anyway. U.S. guidelines call for eating more lean meat and poultry, seafood and nuts. One word of caution: If do decide to eliminate meat entirely, be sure to check with your doctor first to see what kind of vegetarian diet will give you adequate nutrition.
Robin Westen is ThirdAge's medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. Her most recent book, co-written with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V is for Vagina."