Sunday, November 1, 2015

WHO Carcinogen list and a plant-strong Thai-style Curry

Perhaps it’s ironic that a few days after I published my post on Breast Cancer last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that they were adding processed meat to the list of carcinogens known to cause cancer, and listed all red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat) as a food type that “probably” causes cancer.

I was actually away from Buenos Aires when the WHO news broke, and while I was getting periodic updates about the reports, hiking, kayaking, and cycling with friends in Patagonia took precedent.

However whenever I checked in, the internet was ablaze with crazy click-bait titles, ridiculous claims, and adamant defences that this is some sort of liberal conspiracy to further reduce American’s freedoms.

The problem is most people don’t quiet understand what they are so fired up about. While many in the media have said that WHO claims processed meat is as dangerous as cigarettes and asbestos, the truth is the IARC release describes the strength of scientific evidence, rather than the level of risk of specific toxins.

As such, the truth is, processed meats have not been classified as “risky” as smoking or asbestos exposure, rather the evidence is equally compelling that they all contribute to cancer.

These findings were not reached lightly. A panel of experts reviewed over 800 different peer-reviewed research articles examining possible links. Specifically, they concluded that about 2 ounces of processed meats such as cold cuts or bacon increases colorectal cancer risk by 17 percent and 4 ounces of red meat increased that risk by 18 percent. To make this more clear, an average hamburger is somewhere around 2.4 ounces. 

“This is not an issue the public should panic about,” according to an interview giving by panelist Mariana Stern, PhD, but added, “we know that diet may contribute up to 30 percent of the cancer burden. Givent that most cancers are caused by multiple factors that act jointly, and likely in different combinations in different people, the more we know about modifiable risk factors that we can change, the more we can reduce the cancer burden in the population."

As many on the interwebs have pointed out, WHO didn’t bother to differentiate between organic, grass-fed and lean meats from their factory farm counterpoints.

The reason is because they didn’t have too. They looked at certain compounds found within all meat and how it responds to being cooked. Specifically, the evidence focused on the harmful effects of nitrates found in processed meats and, perhaps more surprisingly, heme iron found in all red meats. There was no evidence which suggested that grass-fed, free range meat is any different. Zero evidence. Over 800 studies.

In the same interview quoted above, Dr. Stern (an Argentine by birth!) said the best advice is to severely limit or eliminate all meats and instead to enrich our diets with fruits, vegetables, and grains all of which have been found to help protect against cancer. When pressed if her decade of cancer research has impacted her way of eating she stated, “yes, it has influenced what I eat. I am a vegan.”

More can be found here.

The interview with Mariana Stern, PhD can be found here.

International Agency for Research on Cancer, Red Meat and Processed Meat Volume 114, October 26, 2015.


To sweeten up the sour news about meats, M and I developed this phenomenal plant-based Thai-style curry which is perfect as fall slowly crawls into winter.

I use to make curries quite often from a commercially available curry paste that I use to buy in New York. These products are great, but many of them contain fish-oil so be sure to check the ingredients carefully.

However those are not available here, so instead we’ve been experimenting with curry powder. We constantly ran into the same issues, the curries were always to bitter.

One night while in the shared kitchen at our hotel in Patagonia, M was talking to an Australian woman about unlocking the full potential of curry powders. As it turns out, sautéing the powder first is a little-known secret that helps rid the powder of it’s overly bitter taste, while leaving that sweeter thai-style curry flavor.

Tofu & Kale Thai-style Veggie Curry
Serves 4

2.5 tablespoons yellow curry powder
3 cups of coconut milk
2 cups of water (rough estimate)
1.5 cups of water
1 onion – finely chopped
2 carrots – chopped
1 eggplant
1-2 medium potatoes – chopped
½ firm tofu – chopped
1 cup broccoli – chopped
half bunch of kale - chopped
1 handful of raisins (optional but recommended)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 thumb of fresh ginger – diced
½ teaspoon coconut sugar or sweetener of choice
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and black pepper to taste

Start by sautéing the curry powder in 2 tablespoons of coconut milk for three minutes. The powder will start to release some of it’s aroma.

Now add the finely chopped onion and sauté for two more minutes, adding a little more liquid as needed.

Add 3 cups of coconut milk and ¾ cup of water and bring to a simmer. Once rolling, add the tofu, spices, and remaining vegetables (except the kale), along with a handful of raisins. The raisins will help further sweeten the curry. If your curry powder is very bitter, add a little extra coconut sugar.

Once you add all of the vegetables, add just enough water to cover them and bring to a simmer.

Cover and let cook for 15-20 minutes or until all the vegetables (particularly the potatoes) are soft and well cooked. Once everything is done, add the chopped kale and let sit for 5 minutes so the kale has a chance to soften.

We served the curry on top of this simple rice and barley mixture.

1.5 cups brown rice
1.5 cups barley
2 bayleafs
½ teaspoon cardamom powder
6 cups of water

Combine all ingredients and simmer until all the water is absorbed and ready to be eaten.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.


  1. Really well written! And recipe looks tasty too! Thanks

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