Simple Ways to Lower the health risks of red meat


Meat and its products are common delicacies, but they possess many health risks consumers are not familiar with. Red meat specifically has high heme iron content. It is found mostly in beef and goat meat or processed red meat products such as sausages.

Processed meat, on the other hand, is one whose shelf-life is extended by smoking, curing or addition of colour enhancers, preservatives and antioxidants such as sodium nitrite or nitrate, among others. Nitrates are most preferred to inhibit bacteria growth, enhance meat flavour, prevent lipid peroxidation and fix pink or red colour.

Examples of processed meat products are hot dogs, salami, ham, bacon, canned meat, luncheon meat and bologna. This article looks at heme iron, protein, fats and some metallic ions, which are natural components of red meat.

Scientifically, processing meat under high temperature results in formation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), Heterocyclic Amines (HCA) and N-Nitroso compounds.

Studies have shown that these compounds are carcinogenic and mutagenic. Consumption of red and processed meat thus predisposes the consumer to pancreatic, stomach, bladder and colorectal cancers. So, how then do we reduce carcinogenesis of the above compounds?

The negative health effects of processed red meat on human health can be reduced by taking food high in fibre together with red meat. The fibre modifies the absorption and excretion of the compounds.

Take lots of green tea, caffeine, green vegetables, fruits and herbs if you frequently consume red meat. These beverages, fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals and phenolic antioxidants which quench free radicals reducing risk of tumour development in the body.


Vitamins E and C in fruits and vegetables act as antioxidants, which chelate free radicals in the body. When cooking meat, use gentle cooking methods such as stewing and steaming, which forms less carcinogenic compounds compared to grilling.

When roasting, avoid exposing meat to direct flames and minimise cooking at high temperature.

Direct flames increase chances of forming meat surface burns which leads to Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are a group of more than 100 different chemicals that are released from burning coal, oil, gasoline, trash, tobacco, wood, or other organic substances such as charcoal-broiled meat.

After roasting meat, cut off the charred meat surfaces and avoid smoked meat, for these are the sources of PAHs and maillard reaction products.

Before cooking, marinate red meat in garlic, red wine lemon juice and olive oil to reduce the risk of formation of HCAs (chemical compounds).

If meat is to be cooked at high temperature, flip the meat frequently to minimise surface burns. If possible, choose lean meat, chop off any visible fats before cooking.

Lastly, make vegetables, cereals and fruits a major serving and only include a smaller portion of meat. Serve meat with fresh vegetables or salads.

This article should not discourage consumers from red meat. However, minimise consumption of red meat, take processed meat together with fresh vegetables, fruits or herbs or use some spices such as rosemary, black pepper, cumin, coriander, onion, garlic when processing for a healthy diet.

The writer works in the Department of Dairy, Food Science and Technology, Egerton University

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin