WHO Matters arising as health organisation's report on processed, red meat goes viral

She said that although adults need to cut down on the amount of meat eaten, children should not be denied it as it was a source of vitamins and minerals which they required for healthy growth.

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Following recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report on the dangers of consuming red and processed meat, there is the need to identify what constitute red and processed meat, who should not eat it and how much of it is harmful.

The report of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of WHO, on Oct. 26, evaluated the carcinogenicity of consuming red and processed meat.

The Agency said after thoroughly reviewing accumulated scientific literature, a working group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the IARC Monographs Programme classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A).

It, however, added that the consumption of meat vary greatly between countries, with a little more than 100 per cent of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat.

The report defined processed meat as meat that had been modified to either extend its shelf life or change the taste, the meat that had been smoked, curried or had salt or preservatives added to it.

It listed processed meat to include bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef jerky and ham, as well as canned meat and meat-based sauces, saying ``such meats do cause cancer.’’

However, the report stated that ``simply putting beef through a mincer does not mean the resulting mince is processed, unless it is modified further.’’

The 22 experts concluded that each 50-gramme portion of processed meat, about two slices of bacon, eaten daily could increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent, adding that for an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of consumption of processed meat remained small, but the risk increased with further amount consumed.

Having revealed the dangers of consuming processed and red meat, therefore, people must be cautious on its consumption and pay attention to the way it was prepared.

The different modes of cooking are barbecuing, pan-broiling, grilling, pan frying, roasting and stir-frying.

The level of cooking also differ as some people cook meat until it is very soft, while others like it half done and half rare.

Nigerians, however, are known for their thorough cooking in order to ensure that any germ that might be in the food items are destroyed and safe for consumption as heating is a way of destroying germs.

Following the scare about the consumption of red meat and its resultant health implications, therefore, there is the need to look at its benefits, especially to children.

Miss Nkechi Anthony, an Abuja-based nutritionist, said ``it is high consumption of red meat that causes the increase in the number of reported cases of heart, diabetes and cancer-related diseases but it is essential for children.’’

Anthony told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that red meat was a source of protein, vitamin D, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.

But the nutritionist said the amount of its health benefits to man was small, compared to its health hazards.

``Red meat can be harmful to our health because it is packed with fats that can contribute to heart disease and diabetes and other compounds that promote cancer but children can enjoy it until they become teenagers.’’

She said that although adults need to cut down on the amount of meat eaten, children should not be denied it as it was a source of vitamins and minerals which they required for healthy growth.

A paediatrician, Dr Peter James, said children need meat as good source of zinc and magnesium, which play a role in immunity and healthy bones, in addition to its many other health benefits.

James, however, said ``high consumption of meat can contribute to plaque build-up in the arteries that can raise the level of blood pressure and reduce blood flow to the heart.’’

He then advised consumers to substitute red meat with either fish or chicken to stay healthy but stressed that children should not be denied as they need it for proper and healthy growth.

He also advised Nigerians to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including healthy diet and increased physical activities and to avoid sedentary lifestyle.

It should, therefore, be noted that although it was advisable for adults to cut down on red and processed meat consumption, meat also had their own advantages.

Children in particular could continue to enjoy meat until they become teenagers as their body required it for healthy growth.

The watchword, therefore, is moderation as too much of everything is bad.

Although meat could be unhealthy for adults, caution should also be applied when dishing it out to children as the best option was moderation, moderation, moderation.

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