Red and Processed Meats Linked to Increased Risk of Cancer by Silvia Milanova, October 28 2015, 1 Comment

Process Red Meat

Vegetarians may be onto something. Eating a lot of red meat can cause cancer. A recent report from The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer division of the World Health Organization (WHO), revealed that processed meats have a direct link to cancer in humans. To harden the blow, the report also concluded that red meat is likely to cause or contribute to cancer in humans. This link was associated mainly with colorectal cancer, but links to pancreatic and prostate cancer were also observed.

So what are processed meats anyway?

Processed meat is meat that has been salted, cured, fermented, smoked, or preserved with chemicals such as sodium nitrate/lactate/diacetate/erythorbate/phosphate and/or enhanced with additives such as “flavorings”, corn syrup, sugar and salt. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood, according to IARC.

Here are some examples of processed meats:

  • Hot dogs (frankfurters)
  • Ham
  • Sausages
  • Corned beef
  • Biltong or beef jerky
  • Canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces

The report by IARC states that red meat includes every type of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

How much is too much?

The research was conducted and evaluated by 22 experts from 10 countries who state that eating a 50 gram portion of processed meat daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. And 50 grams is not a lot. It’s about 2 slices of bacon, 2-3 pieces of baloney or a sliver (one serving) of ham.

What does this mean for consumers?

Since the goal of WHO is to globally “improve equity in health, reduce health risks, promote healthy lifestyles and settings, and respond to the underlying determinants of health”, you can imagine that these findings are supposed to help people around the world see the bigger picture: improve their eating habits or the quality of the food they consume.

“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance,” said Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Program. In addition, Dr. Christopher Wild, Director of IARC, suggests that these findings should support the current public health recommendations for people, especially those who consume red and processed meat every day, to limit their intake. This does not mean that red meat should be avoided altogether as red meat has nutritional value, but that it should be eaten in moderation, as part of a wholesome, healthy diet.

What you can eat instead of processed/red meat?

If this report from WHO has put a damper on your red meat feasts, don’t worry. There are options you can eat that are just as delicious as a nice, juicy steak. Ok, maybe not tasty in the same way (as my carnivore friends point out), but delicious nevertheless. If you do eat red or processed meat daily, try to switch up your options by substituting some of your current choices with one of these:

  • Fresh wild-caught fish like salmon, albacore tuna, sardines or black cod
  • Organic chicken and turkey pieces (breast/drumsticks/’s all good in moderation!)
  • Beans (in soups, salads, stews, chili—you can pretty much add them to anything!)
  • Ground organic chicken or turkey meat (you can make chicken/turkey meatballs and burgers to substitute for regular beef burgers—great grilled or cooked in a skillet)
  • Meals centered around vegetables, such as vegetable lasagna, soups, casseroles, vegetable omelets (1 egg contains 6g of protein)

In addition, if you’re limiting your overall consumption of meat, think about adding more nuts, Greek yogurt, whole grains (whole wheat bread/pasta, oats, brown rice, etc.) and dark, leafy greens (such as spinach and kale) to your eating plan. This can help you maintain your intake of protein, while cutting down on saturated fats from red meat.

Finally, when you do choose to eat meats (processed, red or white), try to choose and buy organic whenever you can. For organic meat, animals are raised without the use of growth hormones and antibiotics and in humane, healthy living conditions resembling their natural habitats.