First, have you heard about the meat and cancer debate? Does eating meat increase your risk of cancer? Read this article to get the best answers.

Pop question: Does Meat Cause Cancer?

The jury is out: Meat—good or bad?  The vegan and vegetarian camps say “Nay!,” the meat lovers say, “Yay!” Who is right? Moreover…does meat really cause cancer? Read on to find out what the research says. 

The Great Meat And Cancer Debate

The great meat debate has been an ongoing source of conflict between varying groups for the past 20 years—particularly since the release of the famous “China Study” book, published in 2005, often cited as the leading authority on the reasons to NOT eat meat. 

cancer debate on plant-based diet

As a matter of fact, the authors explain the 1980’s “China Project” research study in layman’s terms, concluding that that people should eat a predominantly plant-based diet—excluding animal products (including beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk), processed foods and refined carbs—in order to avoid, reduce, and reverse the development of numerous diseases. 

The truth? There really are lots of studies out there linking meat consumption (especially red meat) to cancer. 

Regardless of the type of meat consumed (organic, grass-fed, etc.), researchers have uncovered several components linking cancer with meat that have nothing to do with what an animal eats, hormone or antibiotic exposure. 

However, does this link actually mean that meat causes cancer, or is there something else that sets the stage for meat to cause cancer?

10 Things You Need to Know About the Meat & Cancer Debate

(These are the things that most news headlines won’t tell you). 

1. Cancer is an Autoimmune Disease (Anti-Inflammatory Foods are Best)

Call it cancer, Lupus, Hashimoto’s, Celiac disease, or any one of the other 100+ autoimmune diseases now classified by the CDC, all autoimmune diseases share a common link—your body is attacking itself (autoimmune response).What causes this autoimmune response in the first place? Inflammation, or “stress.”

Actually, inflammation and stress are interchangeable terms in the autoimmune disease presentation. Anything that causes inflammation is a “stress” to your body—setting you up for the perfect storm of autoimmune disease (i.e. body attacking itself). Stress goes far beyond mental stress. It includes things like:

    • Toxins in the cleaning & hygiene products
    • Tap water consumption
    • Lack of sleep
    • High screen & light exposure
    • Lack of exercise or too much exercise
    • Longterm medication use or antibiotic use
    • Pesticides on fruits & veggies
    • Gut irritating foods (high intake of grains, sugar, processed, hydrogenated oilsor refined foods)
    • Hormones & antibiotics in meats and dairy
    • Lack of balance in the diet
    • Gut dysfunction (low stomach acid, low digestive enzymes)

Given these facts, high meat consumption can certainly be a source of inflammation for some people—particularly depending on the type of meat consumed (organic vs. conventional); a lack of veggies in the diet; or low stomach acid (that helps digest the meat in the first place).

However, as noted above, meat is NOT the only source of inflammation in the body connected to stress and disease.

Essentially, any time we lack balance (such as lacking nutrient-dense foods in our diet) stress and inflammation happens.Other examples of dietary stressors that trigger inflammation for some people may include: 

  • High amounts of raw and cruciferous vegetables

FODMAPS are difficult for some people to digest and break down—especially those with SIBO, IBS or gut issues.

  • Whole Grains

Unfortunately, most of the grains sold in the U.S. today are highly processed, pseudo-versions of grains, filled with enriched flours, fillers, sugar and oils; or not properly soaked or sprouted, containing heavy amounts of phytates and lectins (1) that our digestive tract cannot break down.

  • Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar feeds cancer cells (2). Artificial sugar is not much better, correlated with tumors and various forms of cancer in multiple studies cited by the National Cancer Institute (3). 

  • High Fat without enough greens—

cancer debate on fatty foods

For those with a sluggish, under-functioning, liver-gallbladder, fatty foods can be more difficult to digest—particularly in the face of low green and veggie intake (4, 5). (No, fat is not bad for you, but if you, once again, lack balance then inflammation risk is higher)

In short: Cancer is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that is triggered when your body encounters various inflammation and stressors. Certain dietary triggers (like poor quality meat consumption, or lack of veggies with your proteins) may be more “inflammatory” to some people, whereas other stressors, (such as lack of sleep and smoking) are more present and inflammatory for others. 

The Bottom Line: 

Focus on an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet to fight off cancer. (And yes, protein can be included).

2. Leaky Gut is a Root of Cancer

Hippocrates said it best: “All disease begins in the gut.”Leaky Gutand an unhealthy gut microbiome is another common link that all autoimmune diseases—including cancer—share (6, 7, 8, 9).Unfortunately, for a long time, debates over “what causes cancer” have been heavily weighted at particular foods and lifestyle stressors, such as meat, smoking and lack of fruits and veggies (10). However, valid or not ,the root cause is often missed in all these studies, claims and debates—leaky gut. This cancer debate needs answer.

It is important to realize that your gut is the gateway to your health! If your digestive tract and gut microbiome are unhealthy, then you are LESS likely to digest and absorb your nutrients properly to feed the rest of your organs and cells.

Additionally, in the case of “leaky gut,” food particles and foreign proteins from the foods you eat seep into your bloodstream, undigested, where your body’s immune defense system then attacks itself to get those proteins out of there (i.e. “autoimmune response” or “autoimmune disease”). If this happens continually, over time, this autoimmune attack wreaks havoc on your health, resulting in various autoimmune disease presentations or symptoms. In functional medicine we say, “Genetics load the gun, BUT environmental factors (diet, gut health and lifestyle) pull the trigger.”

The Bottom Line:

You may have the genetics for cancer or other health conditions, but only when other environmental factors are “stressed” (like your gut health) is when that cancer presents itself. We still have a lot to learn about the influence of the microbiome on health and disease, but we know enough already to conclude that the gut-disease link is significant. Many people are talking about this during cancer debate.

Do you have a “leaky gut?” Find out here, plus insider tips on how to fix it here.

3. Stomach Acid is Crucial

Stomach acid is essential for the digestion of food—especially protein (10, 11). Your stomach acid has a pH of 1.5-3.5 on a total 14 point scale (translation: It’s HIGHLY acidic). Unfortunately, stomach acid deficiency is common in people due to high amounts of stress humans have adapted to today. Examples of stressors that wreak havoc on your stomach acid levels include:

      • Long term medication use
      • NSAID/steroid use
      • Antibiotic use
      • Lack of prebiotic fiber and probiotic rich foods
      • Not chewing your food well
      • Eating on the go or distracted
      • Overtraining
      • Lack of sleep
      • And, yes, even high amounts of mental stress

eating on the go and cancer debate

Stomach acid, also known as “hydrochloric acid,” is essential for the break down of all foods, but particularly proteins.

Without enough stomach acid, proteins in foods can pass into the rest of the GI tract only partially broken down and digested from the stomach—making effective digestion even more challenging throughout your small and large intestine.

The result? Increased likelihood of leaky gut, and other gut-related issues correlated with an unhealthy gut microbiome and disease (including cancer) (13). Interestingly, several studies show that people with long-term PPI medications use (drugs that “boost” stomach acid) experience up to a six-fold risk for getting cancer (14, 15). Why? These drugs essential decrease your natural stomach acid production.

The Bottom Line:

Meat itself may not be the culprit of cancer, but instead an unhealthy gut microbiome and low stomach acid that was unable to break down your meat in the first place.

4. Meat Studies Don’t Necessarily Use “Healthy” Controls

Given that 1 in 2 Americans already have a chronic disease in our country, are studies with “average” controls of the population really all that healthy?While syndromes and diseases like IBS, acne, allergies, anxiety, constipation, pre-diabetes and more may be considered “healthy,” “normal,” or “average” in our society, these issues typically signify something else (health related) is going on under the hood—especially gut health and hormone related.

The Bottom Line:

When interpreting a study that claims “meat causes cancer,” or “carbs cause weight gain,” or even “broccoli causes cancer,” ALWAYS question: Who were the test subjects? What was their current lifestyle, diet and gut health like? There’s often more to the story than meets the eye.

5. Meat Contains Carcinogens (& So Do Plants)

In one cancer debate, it was discussed that compounds in meats (salts, nitrates, nitrites, heme iron, saturated fat with toxins in the fat cells, estradiol) have been theorized to increase DNA synthesis and cell proliferation, increase insulin-like growth factors, affect hormone metabolism, promote free radical damage, and produce carcinogenic heterocyclic amines—all of which may promote the development of cancer (16). However, these components, prevalent in many processed and conventional meats are not prevalent in sustainably-raised, grass-fed, pastured and local meats.

The Bottom Line:

Bad quality meat (17) is linked to cancer (think: processed and conventional)—and so are carcinogens in fruits and veggies (i.e. Roundup, pesticides, etc.) (18).

6. You Need Greens with Your Meat

importance of vegetables and meat cancer debate

The “problem” with high meat diets—or even cancer and meat studies—is that often times, these studies LEAVE OUT the OTHER important components to the human diet, digestion and absorption—particularly fiber!Fiber (19), found in veggies and fruits, is essential for “pushing food” through your digestive tract and also helping probiotics (good gut bacteria) stick in your gut (20, 21).

No wonder inflammation happens in meat studies! People are talking about it on cancer debate. And many are taking about in in any cancer debate. The same thing goes for high-fat diet studies, where participants tend to leave out the whole-food carbs (i.e. greens), and opt for the standard American diet—full of hydrogenated oils, proteins, and refined processed foods and carbs. Duh, inflammation will happen.

The Bottom Line:

Get your veggies on! Bonus: Incorporate fermented foods into your diet daily.

7. Meat Variety is Essential (Just Like Fruit & Veggie Variety is Essential)

Red meat has long been touted as the “bad meat”—highest connected to cancer. However, in consideration of ALL the other facts we’ve addressed, red meat is simply the most often studied in meat studies (perhaps due to the bad rep it also has gotten over the years for “causing heart disease” and high cholesterol—however, these claims have also been debunked) in cancer debate(22).

The bigger “culprits” than red meat vs. chicken vs. fish? Ask yourself these questions: Question 1: How is my gut health and stomach acid for breaking my meat down in the first place?Question 2: How is my meat and food variety in general?Question 3: Where is my meat source from? (Grass-fed, organic and sustainable raised or full of hormones and antibiotics?). This are the common questions when it comes to meat and cancer debate.

Just like it would be “unhealthy” to eat grapes and iceberg lettuce for your only sources of fruits and veggies every day; and just like it would be “unhealthy” to fuel up on a heavy dose of Roundup (a pesticide) in your fruits and veggies, the same thing goes for red meat.

The Bottom Line:

Red meat itself is not “bad”—it’s all about the context. Boost stomach acid with apple cider vinegar or HCL tablets at meals; opt for a grass-fed cut of meat; and vary up your proteins often (beef, chicken, fish, turkey, etc.)

8. Whole Grains, Iceberg Lettuce & Vegan Ice Cream Can ALSO “Cause Cancer”

It’s no secret: Processed, man-made, refined foods are not real foods. And what do we know about real foods? One cancer debate says they cause inflammation in the body. True, high meat consumption without enough stomach acid, variety and/or poor quality meats is inflammatory; but so is a diet rich in gut-irritating whole grains (i.e. cereals, quinoa bowls, oats), nutrient-deficient iceberg lettuce, and vegan ice cream, laced with synthetic ingredients like: guar gum, erythritol, vegetable glycerin, pea protein and other inflammatory fillers.

The Bottom Line:

Eat real, nutrient-dense foods to fight cancer. 

The BIG Bottom Line:

A colorful, plant-based, nutrient-dense diet IS the optimal human diet. 

In addition, if we really want to “study” the facts on what the optimal human diet is for disease and cancer prevention, who better to look to than our ancestors who were practically free of all modern day diseases we experience today (autoimmune disease, high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer)? This is a part of the cancer debate.

vegetable salad and cancer debate

Also, studies of indigenous, hunter-gatherer populations who live lifestyles like those our own ancestors lived thousands of year ago, reveal similar findings: low disease rates and generally healthy people (23, 24, 25).

The optimal hunter-gatherer diet greatly depended on the terrain, season and geographic location in which one lived, however a few key universal themes true for most human are these:

  • High intake of colorful plants (vegetables, berries and plant “oils”—like olives, avocados and coconut)
  • Meat and fish, when hunted and available (i.e. not an 8 oz steak for every meal)
  • Minimal starches, beans and grains, if at all
  • Minimal raw dairy
  • Some nuts and seeds

In short:

If we model a similar diet to the optimal human diet that humans remained cancer-free on for thousands of years, support our gut health (25), and minimize stress in our own lifestyles, the whole “meat causes cancer debate” becomes a thing of the past. 

Cancer-Fighting Diet

An anti-inflammatory does a body good. Particularly, in the face of cancer or other autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, here are some anti-inflammatory super foods to add to your grocery list and regular part of your diet. (Note: This is not an exhaustive list, but several of the top players in fighting inflammation).

Antioxidant-Rich Veggies & Fruits 


  • Dark Leafy Greens
  • Fresh Herbs (cilantro, basil, parsley, etc)
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Fresh Tomatoes
  • Squashes
  • Minimal Starches (cooked & cooled potatoes/yams, cassava, plantains)


  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes
  • Green Tipped Bananas
  • Orange
  • Jicama

Healthy Fats

  • Avocado (avocado oil, avocado)
  • Coconut (oil, butter, milk)
  • Olives (olives, extra virgin olive oil)
  • Traditional Fats (lard, ghee, tallow, duck fat)
  • Pastured egg yolks
  • Fatty cuts of wild caught meats

Sustainable Meats

  • Wild-Caught Fatty Fish (salmon, tuna, halibut, cod)
  • Pastured Chicken (all cuts)
  • Grass-fed Beef & Bison
  • Organic Lamb
  • Organic Ground Turkey
  • Wild Game (Venison)
  • Organic Organ Meats
  • Pastured eggs

Extra Anti-Inflammatory Boosters

  • Lemon
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Turmeric
  • Sauerkraut & Fermented Veggies
  • Ginger
  • Celery Juice
  • Aloe
  • Oregano

Cancer-Fighting Diet & Gut Healing Plan

Want a custom protocol or support for healing your gut and fending off cancer? Connect with Dr. Lauryn today to find out how she can help you.  


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