Last week, we learned that women should eschew beef (or at least conventionally raised American beef) during pregnancy; this week, the folks in the lab coats are telling us that older women who eat even small amounts of red meat daily can increase their breast cancer risk by 56 percent. According to the new study, published by researchers at the UK’s University of Leeds, the effect was evident in postmenopausal women who consumed as little as 2 ounces of red meat per day—the amount in half a quarter-pound burger or two thin slices of roast beef. The same diet also led to a slightly elevated risk in women of childbearing age.
I’ve never been one to run out and change my diet based on every new study that comes along, but I’m inclined to take this one seriously: It followed 35,000 women for about eight years, and it adjusts data for a bevy of possible confounding variables including income level, weight, fruit and vegetable intake, smoking habits, and education. Of course, it does indicate that regular intake of the most processed meats—like bacon, sausage, and ham—upped the breast cancer risk for older women even further, to 64 percent. Last time I checked, those three delicious meats were usually made from pork, and pork was still “the other white meat.” So perhaps the increased incidence of cancer is not about the color of your chosen meat as much as it is about your consumption of saturated fats (often much higher in those particular piggy products than in other cuts).