The Cancer, Bacon, Red and Processed Meat Connection

The List of Offenders

Processed meats include but are not limited to:

Ham                Pepperoni             Salami                    Hot Dogs              Beef Jerky

Bacon             Sausage                Corned Beef          Canned Meat       Smoked Meats

Meat Based Sauces                     Chorizo                  Pastrami               Cold Cuts (Bologna)

Red meat includes but is not limited to all mammal muscle meat including grass-fed, organic, wild game or factory fed:

Beef                 Veal                       Pork                      Goat

Lamb               Mutton                  Horse

The Review Board 

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 3.21.05 AMA group of 22 expert scientists from The World Health Organization, International Agency Research on Cancer reviewed more than 800 studies on meat and cancer.  The studies evaluated more than a dozen types of cancers from a variety of populations who consumed vastly different types of diets over the past 20 years.  You will no doubt be bombarded by multiple media reports to the contrary in the near and distant future but remember 1) leading experts and scientists 2) more than one, more than 50, more than 100, more than 800 studies 3) people of all shapes and sizes, living all around the world, consuming different diets and exposed to varying environmental conditions 4) and studies that spanned two decades resulting in the same, evidenced based recommendations.

The Results

Source: Cancer UK WHO

The consumption of red meat was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans, Group 2A, based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect. The association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but connections also exist between pancreatic and prostate cancer. 

Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. 

What does it mean when the International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC slaps this label on a foods and chemicals? This quick video reviews what the scale ratings, 5, 4, 3, 2B, 2A and 1 scale and your relative risk.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 6.58.26 AM

Your Limit?

A known carcinogen.  A 50 gram portion of processed meat may increase your risk of colorectal cancer over a lifetime by 18 percent. This is the equivalent of 1.8 ounces of meat

  • 5 slices of bacon
  • 3 small sausage links
  • 1 hotdog

There is limited evidence that 100 grams of red meat per day may increase your risk of cancer by 17 percent.  This is the equivalent of close to 3.5 ounces of meat or

  • a deck of cards
  • the inside palm of your hand

To Do

Whether you chose to drink empty calorie, sugar loaded soda, sit at your desk all day for three to four hours at a stretch or eat a plate stacked with bacon, these effects all add up!  Cancer isn’t a rule abiding citizen.  It responds to a variety of both lifestyle and environmental factors so stack the deck in your favor.  In addition to not smoking, getting regular exercise, limiting alcohol and managing your weight, take these five dietary steps.

  1.  Limit high-temperature cooking methods such as grilling, barbequing or pan-frying as these produce the highest amounts of chemicals (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines) that may contribute to risk of cancer. Take the AICR Grilling Quiz.
  2. Cut down, but don’t give up lean red and processed meat if you enjoy the taste and flavor. If the portion served is the same size as your head, split the meal. Pair it with antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables to reduce the potential harmful effects.
  3. Enjoy more poultry, fish and use beans, legumes, lentils, seeds and nuts as an extender or alternative to animal protein.
  4. Make 1/2 your plate fruits and vegetables.
  5. Make 1/2 your grains whole grains.

Finally, see your doctor annually and don’t avoid the colonoscopy screen when the time comes.

More Resources:

Chew on This: A Food Technologist Puts Red and Processed Meat in Perspective


Categories: Nutrition & Wellness

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1 reply


  1. Simply Snacking – The Dietitian's Digest

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