The Beefs about Beef

By Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian

\"9-15-2013When barbecue season comes along, we may have fond memories of summer events with meat sizzling over the coals. Yet there are great reasons to cook up something else that is superbly tasty and less potentially carcinogenic for summer get-togethers. Recent information from the Harvard-based Health Professionals Follow-up Study which observed 37,698 men for more than a dozen years and from the Nurses’ Health Study which followed 83,644 women for over 18 years showed clearly that eating red meat significantly increased their risk of death. All of these people were free of cancer and heart disease at the beginning; their diets and health status were checked every 4 years. As it turned out, the more meat they ate, the greater their risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancers, and other diet-related chronic diseases. For each daily 3 ounce serving of beef, pork, or lamb, their risk of death was increased by 13% for unprocessed meat and by 20% if the meats were processed (such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, and corned beef).

What factors in meats can be triggers for cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes? Here is a brief summary

Cholesterol. We are all aware that this fatty component of meat can get stuck in the arteries of the consumer, with an end result that blood supply to the heart or brain is blocked.  Cholesterol is in chicken too, as it is part of all cell membranes in flesh foods. Our bodies can make all we need; dietary cholesterol is an unnecessary extra. Meat is loaded with saturated fat, too.

 Hormones. The Japanese have been curious about their vast increases in the hormone-related cancers (such as prostate, breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers) and whether this could be related to hormones in the beef they import from North America. For a clip about anabolic steroids in beef, lamb, boars, and their possible link to cancer, see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/anabolic-steroids-in-meat/  Six hormones are permitted in Canadian beef that are not used in Japanese-raised cattle nor in Europe.

Carnitine. We used to think this amino acid might be a valuable component of animal products. Now we find that within 24 hours of consuming beef, the gut bacteria convert carnitine into a toxic compound known as TMAO that may increase our risk of heart attack, stroke, and prostate cancer. Our bodies can use a little carnitine—but we also can make enough to supply all of our needs.

Barbecuing is not the healthiest way of cooking, but if you do, tofu and veggies are better choices than animal products and especially than red meat. Marinated grilled tofu can be very tasty!

Tofu Marinade
Makes about 2 cups

To prepare tofu, tempeh, or veggie kabobs for summer barbecues, here is a superb marinade from “Cooking Vegan” by Vesanto Melina and Joseph Forest, The Book Publishing Co, 2011  (soon to come out in print Canada as“Cooking Vegetarian” by Joseph Forest and Vesanto Melina, Harper Collins, 2013, now as an e-book). The marinade can be used as a sauce for stir fries, as a light salad dressing, simply warmed and served over brown rice, or to baste vegetables for cooking on a barbecue or in another manner.

1/2 cup fresh or canned tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup rice or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced, peeled gingerroot
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Place the tomatoes, water, tamari, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and turmeric in a blender and blend for 15 seconds or until smooth. This marinade will keep, refrigerated, for 2-3 weeks.

Vesanto Melina’s website is www.camd58.sg-host.com; her email is   vesanto.melina@gmail.com .


Pan A et al. Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:555-563.

Rohrmann S et al. Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and NutritionBMC Medicine. 2013;11:63.


Carnitine, Choline, Cancer and Cholesterol: The TMAO Connection.


Koeth RA et al. Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nat Med. 2013 Apr 7.

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