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Processed Meats and Cancer Risk: The Research

May 20, 2016

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with a new statement in regards to processed meats and cancer. It advises people to moderate consumption of processed meat to reduce the risk of cancer. The WHO also classified processed meats as Group 1, meaning they are carcinogenic to humans. This rating may be surprising – Group 1 also includes smoking tobacco—but
according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), this does not mean that they are equally dangerous. “The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.” The issue with this rating of processed meats is that making a claim that processed meats are the sole factor in enhancing cancer risk may leave out other causative associations. This may cause some confusion.

Processed meat is defined as any type of meat that has been transformed through salting, curing,
fermentation, smoking or other
processes designed to enhance flavor. Some examples of processed meats include hotdogs, ham, sausage, bacon, corned beef, cocktail wieners, Spam, and beef jerky, just to name a few.

It was found that daily consumption of 50g of processed meat was associated with a 19% increased risk of cancer, specifically colorectal cancer. The Global Burden of Disease Project, an independent academic research organization, claims that about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are
associated with a diet high in processed meats. It was suggested that one factor that could enhance a person’s risk of cancer from consuming these foods is the way they are cooked. Pan-frying or barbecuing meats may create certain types of carcinogenic chemicals on the food, but not enough research has been done to fully support that conclusion.

Processed meats are said to be unhealthy for many reasons: They have high sodium levels, high levels of nitrates, which also give meat its red color, and high levels of saturated fat. Consuming excessive amounts of these foods may increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney
failure. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued a response to the WHO statement, highlighting a healthy diet including lean meats, poultry, fish, nuts, beans, and legumes. The Academy added that overemphasizing any one food may create confusion which could hinder making nutritious choices.

Should you stop eating processed meats? At The Sage, we believe it is best to limit your consumption of meats high in saturated fat and sodium, including processed meats. Eating meat can have many great benefits to your diet including protein, iron, and vitamin B12. It is best to stick to leaner protein
sources such as chicken, fish, turkey, or tofu. It is our motto to enjoy your food, not fear it – so have your favorite hot dog on the 4th of July without worry.

Happy Eating!

Melissa Gallagher, Nutrition Intern

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