Red Meats and prostate cancer – should I or should’nt I ?

Does meat consumption promote my risk of prostate cancer? Should I be vegetarian? Should I become vegan? This is a typical discussion I have with patients. There is plenty of reasons for the confusion. One day a vegan diet is promoted as the healthiest for disease-free longevity and the next week the Adkins diet, or more recently, the Paleolithic diet becomes more popular.


What should you do if you are seeking prostate cancer protection?

Meat consumption is one of the most misunderstood topics as it relates to prostate cancer. The research is inconclusive at best. However, at this point I think simple carbohydrates (flour, cookies, pasta, breads etc) are most problematic. Wheat is also a problem as it is inflammatory and causes weight gain – also not good for prostate cancer. I will have a more extensive blog post on the relationship between wheat, weight gain and prostate cancer soon.


What does the research show?


A prospective study of 1294 men with prostate cancer did not identify any association between increased meat consumption and prostate cancer recurrence or progression (Daley et al. 2010). There is a correlation, however, with consumption of well-done meats and increase in prostate cancer risk (Zheng et al. 2009). Well-done, charred meats produce Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) – carcinogenic chemicals formed from the cooking of muscle meats such as beef, pork, fowl, and fish. HCAs form when amino acids and creatine react at high cooking temperatures. Researchers have identified 17 different HCAs resulting from the cooking of meats that may pose human cancer risk.

When accessible, low-cooked temperature, grass-fed meat should be consumed by CaP patients due to their high carotenoid, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol), glutathinone, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) levels and low saturated fat content relative to grain-fed beef (Richman et al. 2010).

Cured meats should also be avoided as they contain nitrosamines because meats contain amines, and sodium nitrite, a source of nitrosating agents, is added to cured meats as a preservative.


What is red meat?


Red meat includes  animal products that are red before cooking: beef, ribs, pork, venison, lamb, sheep, etc.

Red meat does not refer to how well a piece of meat is cooked. Nor does it refer to its coloration after it has been cooked.


10 things you should (and should not) do? 


  1. If your choice’s are between a high starch (simple carb) meal or a steak, choose the steak and have steamed broccoli cooked with olive oil, little salt and garlic. Don’t touch the bread. Leave the potatoes alone and run from the pasta.   By the way, salt is not a “bad food” and does not contribute to cancer or high blood pressure. Sea salt is healthier than table salt (sodium chloride). However, if you already suffer from high blood pressure then salt consumption may increase it even more. No extra salt if your are hypertensive.
  2. Cooking temperature is most important. Low heat and medium-rear is better than meats cooked in high heat and well-done. So far, there is more evidence that the problem with meats is the temperature they are cooked in  not the meats themselves.
  3. If possible (and make it possible when possible) eat grass-fed organic meats – always low temperature cooking. Grass-fed, organic meats are low in saturated fat, high in CLA and anti-oxidants. The nutritional value is night and day compared to conventionally, high saturated-fat grain-raised beef. This website give you sources and valuable information of grass-feed meats
  4. Eat lots and lots of vegetables particularly cruciferous vegetables with your meats.
  5. Do not consume too much grain-fed beef. It’s a better alternative than a starchy meal but not necessarily that healthy. Save it for when you go out with some buddies to a steak house. Ask the waiter to add some rosemary to your steak. Rosemary inhibits the formation of HCA’s (Puangsombat et al. 2010) and also taste delicious.
  6. Deli sandwiches may be the worse. Think about it. What’s in a sandwich? Cold cuts (turkey, ham, pastrami) filled with nitrites. Nitrites may be associated with cancer formation. Cheese most likely from grain-fed cows. White flour in your roll or hero. Forget about having it on wheat bread – that’s worse. Top it off with nutrient depleted lettuce and tomato (iceberg lettuce contains mostly water – no nutrients).  Not worth it. Convenient, yes, but potentially cancer promoting.
  7. Make your own sandwich: Sprouted (Flour-less) bread, nitrite-free cold cuts of your choice, fresh tomatoes, romaine lettuce, goat cheese and a little mustard. All can be purchased in health-food stores. This is much better.
  8. Have lamb or sheep meat. They are lower in saturated fat and not grain-fed.
  9. Stay away from breaded meats – once again flour and wheat are your enemy.
  10. Grilling and barbecuing is not a good option.  These forms of cooking meats increases the likelihood of cancer causing HCA and PAH consumption. You can grill vegetables and portabello mushroom. Grilled portabello mushrooms (picture top right)  are delicious and “meaty” in texture.



Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J. 2010 Mar 10;9:10.

Zheng W, Lee SA. Well-done meat intake, heterocyclic amine exposure, and cancer risk. Nutr Cancer 2009; 61: 437–46

Richman EL, Stampfer MJ, Paciorek A, Broering JM, Carroll PR, Chan JM. Intakes of meat, fish, poultry, and eggs and risk of prostate cancer progression. Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 91: 712–21

Puangsombat K, Smith JS.Inhibition of heterocyclic amine formation in beef patties by ethanolic extracts of rosemary. J Food Sci. 2010 Mar;75(2):T40-7.


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