Processed Meat and Bowel Cancer: WHO Finds a Link

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bacon-hot-dogsToday the World Health Organization (WHO) linked processed meat and bowel cancer. The WHO announced that eating processed meats can increase the occurrence of bowel cancer. Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef. The report defines red meat as beef, lamb and pork.

The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, put processed meat like hot dogs and ham in its Group 1 list, “carcinogenic to humans.” Tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes are also on the Group 1 list.

The risk which seems to be most associated with processed meats made from red meats. And red meat was classified as a “probable” carcinogen in its Group 2A list that also contains glyphosate, the active ingredient in many weed killers.

The risk of developing bowel cancer is small, however it increases with the amount of processed meat you consume. For example, eating 50 g of processed meat daily – approximately one hot dog or 2 pieces of bacon – increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%, the study said.

So should you put down the red meat and become a vegetarian or pescatarian? Not necessarily. Red meat does contain many benefits, including high amounts of iron, zinc and protein. But there are many ways to limit the risk. Here are some suggestions:

• Check your serving size. A serving of meat, fish and poultry is considered 3oz when cooked (think deck of cards). So skip the 16oz porterhouse.

• Choose poultry or fish more often. Make up the rest of your meal with vegetables and healthy grains.

• Eat more alternatives to meat. For example, when making a chili or stew, cut the meat quantity in half and replace it with double the quantity of beans or other legumes.

• Trim off visible fat from meat. Remove skin from poultry. This will reduce the amount of harmful chemicals that are created from burning fat.

• When barbecuing, choose lean cuts of meats, poultry and seafood over higher fat meats. This will reduce the amount of harmful chemicals from the smoke created by burning fat.

• Barbecue slowly and keep the food away from the hot coals so that flames are less likely to engulf the food to prevent charring.

• Cook meat, fish, seafood and poultry at lower temperatures by braising, stewing, steaming or roasting more often.

• Marinate meat, poultry and fish before cooking. Studies have shown that marinating these foods can prevent the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. Use an oil-free marinade that contains a strong acid like lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

• Avoid processed meats or save them for rare occasions, e.g., a hot dog at a ballpark.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023