Is There a Connection Between Eating Red and Processed Meats and Cancer?


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), eating red meats like steak and ground beef, as well as processed meats like bacon and sausage, may increase your risk of colorectal cancer and possibly a few other cancers as well (WHO).

In October of 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that it had reviewed more than 800 studies and found that eating more than 100 grammes of red meat per day—which is roughly equivalent to a steak about the size of a deck of cards—was associated with a 17 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer. This was found when compared to not eating red meat at all.

The study also discovered that individuals who consumed more than 50 grammes of processed meat on a daily basis, which is equivalent to around two pieces of bacon, increased their chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

According to the findings of an investigation that appeared in the October 2018 issue of the International Journal of Cancer, high levels of consumption of processed meat were connected with a nine percent increased risk of developing breast cancer.

A more recent significant study that was published in the International Journal of Cancer in August 2019 also revealed that there may be a connection between eating red meat and developing breast cancer. A little over 42,000 women between the ages of 35 and 74 were watched over the course of 7.6 years on average. When compared to those who consumed less red meat, those who consumed more had a 23 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer. This increased risk was seen in both men and women. On the other hand, breast cancer was found to be 15 percent less likely to occur in women who consumed the greatest amounts of poultry compared to those who consumed the least amount of poultry. The researchers also found that reducing one’s consumption of red meat in favour of chicken would result in a lower chance of developing breast cancer.

According to Ashley Jeter, MD, a haematologist and oncologist at the Charleston Cancer Center in South Carolina, other study has found associations between eating red meat and elevated chances of pancreatic, advanced prostate, and stomach cancers. Experts from the WHO have stated that additional research is required to completely understand these links.

Red meats include things like:

  • beef
  • veal
  •  Hog
  •  lamb 
  • Mutton
  •  Horse

Meats that have been processed have been preserved or flavoured using a variety of techniques including salting, curing, fermentation, and smoking. Hot dogs, deli meats, corned beef, sausage, deli meats, beef jerky, and other meats that are canned or prepared in sauces are examples of these types of products.

The link between meat consumption and cancer.

Because there is evidence that establishes a link between processed meat and cancer in humans, the WHO panel came to the conclusion that the evidence was sufficient enough to support a link between processed meat and cancer in humans. In the meanwhile, they came to the conclusion that even if there have been favourable links drawn between cancer and red meat, there is still a need for additional evidence to confirm a definitive cause and effect.

So, what exactly is it about red meat that has been linked to an increased risk of cancer? When red meat is cooked at high temperatures, the carcinogenic properties of the flesh may be released, according to one idea.

According to Dr. Jeter, the process of cooking red meat causes the iron or heme components of the flesh to transform into molecules that have the potential to cause cancer. When red meats like beef and pork are cooked over an open flame, certain compounds, including heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are produced. It’s possible that these chemicals could contribute to mutations in DNA, which would then raise the chance of cancer.

The creation of HCA can also occur in meats that have been cooked for an extended period of time, as well as in meats that have been cooked at temperatures higher than 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, this refers to anything that has been grilled or fried. Meats that are cooked to a well-done temperature may have higher concentrations of HCAs, and the presence of any kind of smoke during the cooking process may also stimulate the formation of PAHs.

The dangers of eating too much processed meat

There are a few distinct health risks associated with consuming processed meats. Sodium nitrite is an additive that can be found in these varieties. Its purpose is to preserve the meat while also maintaining its colour and flavour. Although nitrites are also present in other types of packaged and canned foods, the nitrites that are present in processed meats have the potential to convert into N-nitroso compounds (also known as nitrosamines) when they are cooked at higher temperatures. It has been established that these compounds are carcinogenic.

It has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that eating processed meats raises one’s likelihood of developing colorectal cancer; however, additional investigation is required to determine the nature of the connection between processed meat and stomach cancers.

In general, the data that suggests processed meats raise the risk of colorectal cancer is more compelling than the evidence that suggests red meat may raise the risk of colorectal cancer. [Citation needed]

The question is, are these meats safe to consume in any quantity at all?

The American Institute for Cancer Research advises individuals to limit their consumption of red meat to no more than 18 ounces per week and to steer clear of processed meats entirely. According to the recommendations of the American Cancer Society (ACS), individuals should reduce the amount of red meat they consume and instead choose for fish, chicken, beans, and other forms of vegetable protein.

If you are going to cook meats, poultry, or fish, rather of broiling, frying, or grilling them, you should think about steaming, baking, boiling, or poaching them as much as possible. In addition, the American Cancer Society recommends consuming at least two and a half cups worth of vegetables and fruits on a daily basis, as well as carbohydrates derived from whole grains, such as breads, pasta, barley, and oats, rather than those derived from refined grains. Your chance of developing some malignancies can be lowered by adhering to certain dietary best practises.

Jeter advises that her patients have no more than eight ounces of red meat on each of two separate occasions per week and as little processed meat as is humanly possible.

“If you are able to eat less than that, that is excellent because we know that eating more than that can be harmful to your general health,” she continues. “If you are able to eat less than that, that is great.”

Perhaps the most significant thing to learn from this? The idea is to use moderation.

According to Jeter, it’s always a good idea to set some reasonable boundaries for yourself when it comes to your nutrition. “Increase the amount of healthful fruits, vegetables, and fibre that you eat, limit the amount of saturated fats that you consume, and try going a few days without eating any meat at all.”

Joining the “Meatless Monday” movement, which encourages individuals to eat vegetarian or vegan dishes at the beginning of each week, is a great option to consider if you’re searching for a simple approach to cut back on meat consumption.

Jeter is a huge supporter of this product since it is an easy method to add nutritious plant-based proteins to one’s diet as well as to improve one’s consumption of vegetables, whole grains, and fruit. People who are looking for further recommendations or words of encouragement can peruse the testimonies, recipes, and restaurants that have been recommended on the Meatless Monday website. You may also give some of these meatless dinner ideas a shot to help you transition your home to a meatless Monday routine.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.