Red meat, processed meat and cancer

The World Health Organization has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami and frankfurts as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. Eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen which means it probably causes cancer.

Did you know that eating more than 700 grams (raw weight) of red meat a week increases your risk of bowel cancer? Or that the risk of developing bowel cancer goes up 1.18 times for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day?

Current research shows that there are certain chemicals in red and processed meats – both added and naturally occurring – that cause these foods to be carcinogenic. For example, when a chemical in red meat called haem is broken down in the gut, N-nitroso chemicals are formed and these have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel, which can lead to bowel cancer. These same chemicals also form when processed meat is digested. In addition, the nitrite and nitrate preservatives used to preserve processed meat produce these N-nitroso chemicals and can lead to bowel cancer.

What’s the difference between processed and red meat?

Processed meat includes ham, bacon, salami, and sausages. Red meat includes all fresh, minced, and frozen beef, pork and lamb. 

Fresh white meat, such as chicken and fish, are not linked with an increased risk of cancer.

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