Do Red and Processed Meat really cause Cancer?


The current state of scientific knowledge leaves no room for doubt – regular consumption of red and processed meat is associated with a higher incidence of cancer. People who cannot imagine their daily meals without the use of cold cuts or fried meat are particularly vulnerable. It is worth being aware of the amount that increases the risk of cancer and what can be done to lower it.

Even a small portion of red and processed meat or red meat carcinogens, such as slices of fried bacon, can increase the risk of colon cancer. On the wave of the ongoing meat campaign, we are constantly informed that meat, especially red meat, causes cancer. Is it really so? See what research findings are completely ignored by the media and whether meat actually causes cancer. In women there is absolutely no difference in the risk of colorectal cancer depending on the amount of meat eaten, even processed meat.

Red meat comes from slaughter animals (pork, beef, veal, mutton, lamb, horse, goat) and is characterized by a high content of heme iron. Processed meat, on the other hand, is one that has undergone heat treatment (e.g. prolonged frying, traditional grilling, smoking), salting, pickling, pickling, fermentation (maturation) or other processes that improve the taste or extend the shelf life.

Processed meat has been shown to be an even more potent carcinogen and has been classified in Group 1 – agents for which there are convincing evidence to be carcinogenic to humans. This group includes, among others, alcohol, tobacco, asbestos, aflatoxins, and Helicobacter pylori infection. Research shows that frequent consumption of processed meat contributes to the development of colon cancer.

How is it actually?

Analyzing the WHO report from 2015, we learn that:

  • no clear evidence of a carcinogenic effect of red meat (but it is possible) – it was classified as group 2A;
  • Processed meat, classified as group 1, has documented carcinogenic effect. Based on the research conducted, WHO specialists showed that each 50 g of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Processed meats include: sausages, frankfurters, cold meats, canned meat and meat processed in the process of smoking, fermentation, curing, adding preservatives, flavors and others.

This means that people who do not eat processed meat have NO cause for concern – at the same time, vegetable, fruit and other meatless diets are not anti-cancer diets at all. Thus, an incorrect, superficial interpretation of the WHO report contributed to the often repeated myth about carcinogenic meat.

Processed meat – what is it?

The meat is uneven. Its composition, preparation and origin are most important.

Processed meat, i.e. meat that has undergone technological processing in food industry plants, contains additives that are intended to extend the expiry date of the meat and accelerate its preparation for consumption.

Throughout the history of mankind, with the exception of the last few decades of our civilization only, only such meat was eaten that people were able to hunt, produce and prepare themselves, and prolonged its freshness using home methods – pasteurizing, salting, drying, boiling and freezing.

The biggest problem with processed meat is additives – preservatives, flavor enhancers and leavening.  Add them to the meat products with virtually no legal restrictions. The most important of them are:

  • Thickeners and emulsifiers – soy proteins, modified starch, bamboo fiber, guar gum – these substances cause allergies and stomach problems.
  • Dyes and preservatives – nitrites and nitrates, which when eaten in excess, cause the formation of nitrosamines in the body, increasing the risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer.

Ways of meat processing – frying or grilling?

The answer is neither this nor that. How meat is cooked matters – each brown piece is potentially carcinogenic. Unfortunately, we Poles tend to eat well-done meat. This is due to our habits and bad habits, which – fortunately! – We can always change.

What is the effect of frying on the higher risk of cancer? During intensive processing of meat at high temperature, fat is oxidized, which causes the production of compounds harmful to the human body – including carcinogenic acrolein and oncogene. The longer we fry, the worse it is for our health. And better for cancer.

Cancer disease and meat consumption

What if you have cancer and are undergoing treatment? Should you give up meat and maybe increase its amount in your diet?

Above all: take care of yourself comprehensively. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, red meat, and white meat. During illness, your body needs strength to fight, so it is important to provide it with high-quality products, full of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and proteins.

Meat is not carcinogenic – and meatless diets are not anti-cancer. Eating processed meat increases your risk of cancer. Choose meat with the shortest possible composition – food additives are carcinogenic. Frying and grilling is the worst way to handle meat. Stewing, cooking or eating raw meat is much healthier.

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