According to the World Health Organisation, processed meats – like bacon, sausages and ham – actually do cause cancer.
So what is processed meat?
This is any meat that has been modified to increase its shelf life or alter taste. The most common methods of doing this are smoking, curing or adding salt or preservatives. Other examples of processed foods include salami, hot dogs, corned beef, canned meat and meat-based sauces.
Daily consumption of 50g processed meats increase your chances of getting colorectal (bowel) cancer by 18%, according to the WHO’s report.
It is not necessarily the meat that is causing the increased risk of cancer, but more so it is the chemicals used in the processing of these meats. In fact, WHO did stress that meat does have health benefits such as being a good source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
Approximately six percent of people in the United Kingdom will develop colorectal cancer at some stage in their lives.
Dr Kurt Straif of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said in a statement, “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat is small, but his risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”
The IARC classified red meat as probably carcinogenic (having the potential to cause cancer). There was also evidence, although inconclusive, of a connection between processed meat and stomach cancer.
Processed meat is now in the same category as plutonium and cancer. However, this does not mean that they are equally bad for your health. For example, smoking is definitely much worse that eating a hotdog.
These findings definitely do not mean one has to stop eating red or processed meats. However, if you do consume a lot you may want to consider reducing your intake of these foods. Moderation is key in a healthy diet, so having one hotdog once in a while is not going to do much harm.
According to Dr Teresa Norat, an advisor to the WHO report, “There are many factors that cause bowel cancer. People should limit consumption of red meat and avoid consuming processed meat, but they should also have a diet rich in fibre; from fruit and vegetables and maintain an adequate body weight throughout life and limit the consumption of alcohol and be physically active.”
The IARC estimates that 34,000 cancer deaths each year are due to diets high in processed meat, while approximately 1 million cancer deaths each year are caused by tobacco smoking.