You Should Know

May 2017 Issue




Processed Meats, Risky Business

In October of 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research organization within the World Health Organization (WHO), released a report linking processed meat to an increased risk of cancer. The IARC estimated that every 50-gram (1.8-ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 percent. There is also evidence linking processed meat to pancreatic and prostate cancer. This report was compiled by 22 experts from 10 countries and evaluated more than 800 human studies on meat and cancer.

The IARC classified processed meat as a Group 1 Carcinogen, meaning there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer. This is in the same category as tobacco smoking and asbestos, but this does not mean that they are equally dangerous, as the classifications merely describe the strength of the scientific evidence.

Processed Meats

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Limit your intake of processed meats, such as pastrami, pepperoni, and ham.

What are Processed Meats

Common examples are bacon, deli meats, and hot dogs (see Processed Meats). These are most often beef and pork products, but they include any meat that has undergone salting, curing, fermenting, smoking, or other processes for enhancing flavor or preserving. Processed poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) and fish products, such as turkey bacon, smoked chicken and salted fish are some examples of ‘white’ meats that are considered processed. Research shows that nitrites, added to meats as preservatives, can combine with amines, breakdown products of protein, to form compounds like nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. The WHO considers canned meats and meat-based sauces to be processed, though they don’t have the same risks associated with preservation.

Take Home Advice

Based on this evidence, reducing the intake of processed meats would likely reduce the risk of cancer. Replacing these options with legumes, such as dried beans, peas and lentils, removes a potential cancer-causing food from your diet and replaces it with a potential cancer-reducing one.

Processed Meats

The following meats are considered “processed,” according to the WHO:
- Bacon
- Beef jerky (or other dried meats)
- Canned meats (spam, Vienna sausages, salmon pâté)
- Corned beef
- Deli meat (ham, bologna, pastrami)
- Dried, salted, or preserved fish or meat
- Hot dogs
- Meat-based sauces (beef marinara, gravies, etc.)
- Sausages (pork, turkey or chicken)