Processed Meat & Cancer: Can Eating Red Meats And Cured Meats Really Cause Cancer?

Have you heard the news? Eating red, cured, and processed meats can cause cancer.

Here’s what you really need to know about eating processed meat & cancer…

For years now, doctors have been telling us to cut red meat from our diets to help reduce heart disease, obesity, and other health problems.

This hits home with me because I love steak, ham, barbecued meat, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets. And I also happen to have a pronounced risk of colon cancer in my family.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans,” and they’re doing whatever they can to spread the word about the risk of cancer that certain meats can cause.

WHO classifies processed meat as a type of meat that is cured, salted, or smoked to create its flavor or to help preserve the meat. Commonly, processed meats will contain beef, pork, and even poultry.

According to the WHO, processed meat is in the same category of carcinogens as asbestos and smoking! However, that doesn’t mean processed meat is as dangerous to your health as asbestos exposure or smoking tobacco products.

Meanwhile, unprocessed red meat such as steak and lamb shanks is classified as “probably carcinogenic.”

How Much Processed Meat Is Bad For You?

So, you’re probably wondering, just as I did when I first heard this news, exactly how much processed meat can you eat before increasing your cancer risk.

The WHO report states that eating as few as 50 grams of processed meat each day can raise your risk of cancer by 18%.

By the way, 50 grams of processed meat is the equivalent of 2 slices of ham or bacon.

More specifically, for every 1.8 ounces of processed meats consumed, the risk of colon cancer increases by 18%.

Keep in mind, the risk of colon cancer is rather small to begin with — about 5% of the general population is expected to be diagnosed with colon cancer.

While there is still a lot to be learned about the cancer risks associated with eating processed meats, the WHO is certain that these types of meats push up your risk of cancer.

Meanwhile, the WHO believes that red meat consumption “probably” causes cancer. Apparently, there are chemicals in red, processed, and cured meats that damage cells in the intestinal lining. As these intestinal lining cells replicate themselves in the healing process, the chance increases for the DNA in these cells to cause errors, which lead to the formation of cancer.

So, Is Eating Processed Meat As Bad As Smoking?

Here’s the good news: no. Eating meat is not necessarily as bad for you as smoking.

When it comes to red meat, even the WHO says it still has nutritional value. After all, red meat contains:

  • Protein
  • B vitamins
  • Minerals such as zinc and iron

Eating 500 grams of cooked red meat each week, or about 2, 8-ounce steaks, is still considered safe.

But as for those tasty (but apparently dangerous) processed meats, the story is entirely different: 34,000 cancer deaths per year around the world can be traced back to the consumption of processed meats.

What, Exactly, Are Red, Processed & Cured Meats?

Here’s the part you probably don’t want to read but really need to anyway — a list of red, processed, and cured meats.

So, fellow meat lovers, brace your eyes. I’m sure some of your favorites are listed below:

Red Meats

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Veal
  • Goat
  • Venison
  • Horse

Cured & Processed Meats

  • Hot dogs
  • Sausage (even turkey sausage)
  • Ham
  • Bacon
  • Salami
  • Pepperoni
  • Corned beef
  • Beef jerky
  • Canned meats (like Spam)

Should You Become A Vegetarian?

No, you don’t have to. Some vegetarians still die of cancer, and many meat eaters live to be in their 100s.

This info isn’t supposed to scare people out of eating meat. Rather, it’s designed to raise awareness about the increased health risks that come with eating processed meats as well as large portions of red meat.

Will I still eat an occasional slice of ham? Yes. What about bacon or sausage? I’ll maybe eat 1 or 2 pieces every now and then.

Balancing your diet is the best way to live a healthier life without sacrificing on the occasional splurge here and there.

Again, my friends, nobody is comparing hot dogs to cigarettes. But, we now know we should be more careful about how much of those tasty processed meats we eat.

As for me, I may look into making more veggie-laden stir-frys and shish-kabobs, but you’ll still see me enjoying a hamburger on occasion and ham on Easter.

More About Processed Meat & Cancer

I’m a roller coaster junkie, a weather enthusiast, a frequent traveler, and a numismatist. My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I’m a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG). I’ve also been studying meteorology and watching weather patterns for years. I enjoy sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about coins, weather, travel, health, food, and living green… on a budget.

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