Lower fat steaks, Colon cleansers, and Saccharin

Q: Are some cuts of steak lower in fat than others?
Q: Do herbs and enemas that cleanse the colon protect against colon cancer?
Q: Does saccharin cause cancer?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Are some cuts of steak lower in fat than others?
A: Steak can be high in saturated fat, the type of fat that raises blood cholesterol and therefore risk of heart disease. Several types of steak, however, can be reasonably lean, namely T-bone, porterhouse and tenderloin (filet mignon). In terms of limiting fat intake, how well the steak is trimmed of exterior fat is key. For example, a standard three-ounce serving (roughly the size of a deck of cards) contains about 8 grams (g) of fat and 170 calories if the outside fat is completely trimmed off. But if untrimmed, that same portion of steak soars to over 20 g of fat and 290 calories. A second contributing factor is portion size. Obviously as the portion increases, so do the fat and calorie content. Restaurant steak portions are usually 9 to 12 ounces – that’s three to four standard servings. Some restaurants pride themselves on steak portions so large they’re equal to five standard servings; indulge here and you’re taking in over 100 g of fat and 1450 calories for an untrimmed portion of meat. In the end, however, the negative health effects of consuming large amounts of red meat go beyond the soaring fat and calorie calculations. And they cannot be erased by simply choosing a leaner cut of steak. According to the latest international report on diet and cancer risk from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), research is now convincing that red meat in itself increases risk of developing colon cancer. Consequently AICR recommends limiting red meat to no more than 18 ounces a week. That allows a 6-ounce steak perhaps two or three times a week. To help make the adjustment, begin to think of steak as a treat and eat it slowly, savoring every bit. If you’re mindful of your food, you won’t need a large portion to feel satisfied. Also, if you are reducing your portion of meat, be sure to fill the remainder of your plate with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains to avoid feeling deprived.

Q: Do herbs and enemas that cleanse the colon protect against colon cancer?
A: No well-controlled, scientifically accurate studies offer any convincing evidence to support such suggestions. The mucus and bacteria that many “cleansing products” pride themselves on removing are a normal part of our digestive system, helping it to function and stay healthy. Suggestions that we need special procedures to remove “toxins” are likewise unfounded. Instead of wasting your money on unsubstantiated products, consider increasing the fiber in your diet instead. Studies show that food waste moves through the digestive system considerably faster in people who eat diets high in fiber. Some experts link this increased transit time to the probable role that fiber-rich foods play in reducing risk of colon cancer, suggesting that potential cancer-causing substances in waste material spend less time in contact with intestinal membranes. Other research points to benefits gained from substances produced from fiber by intestinal bacteria. For lower risk of colon cancer and better overall health, follow AICR’s research-supported recommendation: eat a mostly plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans; get regular exercise; limit consumption of red meat, processed meat and alcohol; and maintain a healthy weight.

Q: Does saccharin cause cancer?
A: No. Saccharin (commonly referred to by it’s brand name Sweet’N Low) is a zero-calorie sweetener used in tabletop sugar substitutes as well as in reduced-calorie baked goods, jams and other commercial products. High doses of the artificial sweetener saccharin were linked to bladder cancer in rats in the early 1970s, but further research showed that the implicated pathway was not applicable to humans. Other human population studies show no consistent evidence that saccharin is associated with bladder cancer. Accordingly, saccharin has been removed from the list of established carcinogens and food labels no longer contain a saccharin warning.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research

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