The World Health Organization (WHO) announced red meat and processed meats are connected to cancer.
It was noted in 2014, several studies indicated high consumption of red meat or processed meat slightly increased cancer risk. Therefore, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, a part of WHO) decided to evaluate red meat and processed meat to provide solid scientific evidence regarding cancer risk and red meat/processed meat consumption.
Processed meats classified as carcinogenic to humans
Processed meats are meat products produced by salting, fermenting, curing, smoking, or other technique to enhance preservation and flavor. Some examples of processed meat include hot dogs, sausages, ham, beef jerky, salami, corned beef, pepperoni, spam, and bologna.
The IARC classified processed meats as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans. This means there is enough evidence to support processed meat as cancer causing.
Tobacco smoking and asbestos are also classified as Group 1. However, the IARC is careful to clarify this does not mean processed meat is equally as dangerous to your health as tobacco smoking and asbestos. The group classifications only indicate strength of scientific evidence, not degree of risk.
Red meats classified as probably carcinogenic to humans
Red meat includes beef, pork, veal, and lamb. The IARC classified red meat as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans. Red meat studies were more limited than processed meat studies, but did show an association between red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. However, current studies cannot rule out other potential explanations for the increased cancer risk. Therefore, classified as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic. In addition to colorectal cancer, an association was seen between red meat consumption and stomach cancer…but again, no conclusive evidence.
High temperature preparation and carcinogens
Meat preparation may impact carcinogenic risk. If you cook meat in direct contact with a hot surface or flame, or prepare meat at high temperatures, greater levels of carcinogenic chemicals are produced. Some examples of these types of cooking methods include grilling, roasting, and pan-frying. The degree of impact on cancer risk has not be determined by the IARC.
How much is safe?
Cancer risk from processed meat consumption is associated with the quantity of processed meat consumed. The more you consume, the greater your cancer risk.
Data from 10 studies indicates that every 50 grams of processed meat eaten daily increases cancer risk 18%. One hot dog is 52 grams.
The WHO is not recommending you eliminate meat from your diet. Meat provides many nutrients with known health benefits.
That being said, you do need to limit your intake of processed and red meats. This is not a new recommendation. Many health organizations recommend limiting processed meat and red meat intake due to increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. You can now add cancer to the list of reasons.
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Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.