Most people understand that cigarettes are bad for your health. What if we told you that the same group that classed tobacco as a Group 1 carcinogen, the World Health Organization, also labeled processed meat as carcinogenic to humans? It turns out that bacon, ham, and sausage rank alongside tobacco smoking and asbestos as a major cause of cancer. In addition, they also labeled red meat ‘probably carcinogenic to humans,’ which is Group 2A. But just how big is the risk of these cancer-causing foods?
In turns out, the risk is quite real. Twenty-two health experts from ten countries reviewed over 800 studies to reach this solid conclusion. It was found that eating 50 grams of processed meat (around one hot dog or four strips of bacon) every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. For red meat, there was convincing evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.
What is processed meat?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified all types of mammalian muscle meat, including beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat as red meat. Processed meat refers to meat that has been altered through processes to enhance flavor, including poultry, offal, or meat by-products, such as blood, canned meat, and meat-based sauces.
How does red and processed meat cause cancer?
The main culprits are the certain chemicals found in the meat itself. Carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Cooking red and processed meat also produces heterocyclic aromatic amines. All of these chemicals are known to be carcinogens.
Is meat just as bad as cigarettes?
The evidence that processed meat causes cancer is as strong as the evidence against tobacco. However, the cancer risk from tobacco is much higher. It is estimated that around 86 percent of lung cancers are caused by smoking tobacco, whereas 21 percent of bowel cancer is caused by consuming processed and red meat. Even so, this does not mean we should be playing Russian roulette with our health. Much like smoking cigarettes, increasing your exposure to processed meat increases your risk of cancer, and may increase your chances for other health problems like heart disease and obesity. It’s best to lay off the meat when you can.
What should we be eating?
With all of this solid data in hand, many of the general public are quickly realizing that food plays a major role in preventing and curing diseases, and are taking the necessary steps to improve their diets. Luckily, the best cancer-fighting foods are cheap, readily available, and delicious! The American Cancer Society recommends a diet high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Swap meat for beans, legumes, and plant-based proteins.
An alkaline diet and cancer have a unique relationship that could prove beneficial to health, too. It is believed that cancer cannot survive in an alkaline environment, and many acidic foods derived from animals should be avoided to deter cancer’s growth. The ideal diet is primarily plant-based, and emphasizes fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits.
At the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education, we provide research-based education on how to prevent, manage, and tackle cancer through simple diet and lifestyle switches. With our assistance, you can take active steps to improve your health.