Like Your Meat Rare? You May Want to Reconsider
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Meat purists insist that the only way to really enjoy meat is to eat it rare. Some go so far as to only eat it raw as carpaccio or tartare. They argue that anything else ruins the flavor and even reduces the nutritional value of the meat (which is not true – there is no nutritional difference between a steak that is cooked medium rare versus one that is well done). Some may also say it is just a matter of personal taste.
The reality, however, is that eating raw or very undercooked meat carries significant health risks. So is being considered a beef “connoisseur” really worth getting sick or risk dying for?
In addition to the more common forms of food poisoning that we can get from undercooked or spoiled foods, a study published recently in the respected International Journal of Cancer reports a possible association between the common parasite Toxoplasma gondii, that people can get from contaminated water and undercooked meat, and a rare brain cancer.
The researchers found evidence suggesting
that people infected with this parasite have a higher risk of developing a type of brain cancer known as gliomas. They theorize that the cysts that Toxoplasma gondii can sometimes form in the brain, and the inflammation associated with them, may be the cause of the gliomas.
Cancers such as gliomas develop when the natural life cycle of cells is disrupted in some way. Usually, our cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When those cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. However, when cancer develops, old and damaged cells survive, and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells divide without stopping and may form tumors.
While gliomas are quite rare, there are fewer than 200,000 cases diagnosed in the U.S. every year, they are very aggressive and have an alarmingly low five-year survival rate of only five percent. It is important to remember that association is not the same as causation, and researchers note that additional studies are needed. Also, some people with this cancer test negative for the parasite and others with the parasite never develop the cancer (remember, it is not common).
The parasite, also known as T. gondii, is so common that researchers believe that up to half of all the people in the world have been exposed to it. In the U.S., estimates are that 11 percent of people are infected. Luckily, a healthy immune system is able to keep T. gondii at bay so well that most people neither have any symptoms of having the parasite nor get sick from it. Some may develop flu-like symptoms. Those that do develop serious illness usually have a compromised immune system associated with HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy treatment or immunosuppressant drugs such as steroids. This puts them at risk for symptoms such as seizures, headaches, lung problems or even blurred vision. And researchers also believe that infection with T. gondii may trigger neurodegenerative disease if someone is predisposed to it.Other Dangers of Undercooked Meat.
Being infected with T. gondii is not the only health risk associated with undercooked meat. Several other health risks include:
- Tapeworms: The first thing to know is that the term “tapeworm” actually refers to several different types of parasites that can make their home in the human intestine for a very long time – sometimes for 20 years. Their taking up residence can cause nausea, loss of appetite, malnutrition and general gastrointestinal distress.
- Campylobacter: This bacterium can not only affect your gastrointestinal tract but can also compromise your immune system as it spreads throughout your body.
- Salmonella: While this bacterium may not make its four-footed hosts sick, it can definitely do so to humans. Once ingested, it causes watery diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. It also can travel around your body and affect bones and joints.
- E. Coli: While usually harmless, this bacterium can trigger severe food poisoning. In extreme cases, E. coli can cause a complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can result in kidney failure.
- Listeria: This bacterium can cause fever, nausea, body aches and watery diarrhea. If you have a compromised immune system, a listeria infection may cause a variety of symptoms. And in pregnant women, it can cause various complications including preterm delivery or even stillbirth and miscarriage.
How to be Proactive.
The good news is that you can protect yourself from T. gondii by simply cooking your meat to the CDC-recommended internal temperature of 145 degrees, 150 degrees for hamburgers and other ground beef, and 165 degrees for pre-cooked meats such as hot dogs. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the meat has reached the recommended internal temperature. You can’t tell if meat is adequately cooked just by looking at it.
You also should not forget the importance of nutrition both in helping to keep your immune system strong to help fight T. gondii and other food-borne pathogens as well as reduce your risk for gliomas. On the former, be sure to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Some that are especially good for the immune system are broccoli, spinach, red peppers, almonds, citrus fruits, garlic, green tea, turmeric, papaya, ginger and yogurt.
Finally, consider taking steps that are likely to reduce the likelihood of cancer in general. These include making sure you get enough of the following nutrients (a simple nutrient test will let you know if you are deficient in any):
- Magnesium, which can be found in greens, nuts, seeds, dry beans, whole grains and oat bran
- Selenium, which you can get from fish, pork, beef, Brazil nuts and enriched foods
- Calcium, which is plentiful in dairy products and green leafy vegetables
- Zinc, the best food source of which are oysters; others are red meat, poultry, beans and nuts
- Copper, found in oysters and shellfish, beans, nuts, organ meats, dark leafy greens and cocoa
- Iron, which is abundant in liver, red meats, dried fruit, nuts, beans and fortified breakfast cereals
- Sulfur, which you can get from turkey, beef, eggs, chicken, nuts and leafy green vegetables
- Vitamin E, whose food sources include almonds, pumpkin, red bell peppers and spinach
- Vitamin D, which our bodies synthesize from sunlight and is also in egg yolks, oily fish and liver
- Antioxidants, which is plentiful in dark chocolate, blueberries, artichokes, kale and raspberries
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.