Scary to think about right?
Here is what you need to know: The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and WHO teamed up to review over 800 high quality studies that were available on red and processed meats' association with a number of different types of cancer. What they found was that for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten daily the risk for colorectal cancer increased by 18% . Processed meats are any meats which have been changed to extend the shelf life or that change the taste such as curing or by adding salts and/or preservatives. This includes foods like sausages, bacon and deli meats. For unprocessed red meats (lamb, pork and beef) WHO found there was limited evidence that eating 100g per day increased the risk of cancer by 17%. So while they do believe there is a link, it's not quite as strong as that for processed meats.
So what does that mean for us consumers? Well I wouldn't go running for the hills at this point. We've known for a while that eating lots of red meats and in particular highly processed meats can increase the risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease. But does that mean we need to do away with our hot dogs? I would say no but you might want to consider cutting back and that is exactly what the World Health Organization is suggesting as well. Eating small amounts of both red meats and processed meats in the diet are not likely to have a serious impact on someone's long term health but eating high levels of these food regularly could put you at risk.
Another thing I would like to point out is that while processed meats are being classified in the same cancer risk category as smoking and asbestos that does not mean that a piece of bacon is just as unhealthy as a smoking habit. I think this is misleading as it's just a way of grouping things together. It only means they are both in the same category which is that the risk for causing cancer is high in these products but not necessarily equal.
The biggest challenge with things like meat versus smoking is if you quit smoking you can still survive. You can't quit food. Meat does still have some benefits like offering iron, B12 and zinc to our diets. So it's not about elimination but about reduction.
We also need to consider to add to our diet. A diet rich in whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables can also reduce the risks of certain cancers and other chronic conditions. I highly encourage people to reduce their intakes of processed meats just like I would recommend removing other processed foods from the diet. Want to reduce your overall risk?
1) Limit processed meats wherever possible
2) Consider doing meatless meals (vegetarian) a few times per week to get the benefits of vegetarian proteins
3) Limit red meats and have chicken and fish more often
4) Include a big variety of whole grains vegetables and fruits daily
Balance is key. All foods can fit.