Picture this: it’s Sunday morning and the smell of bacon and sausage wafts from the kitchen and beckons you to come downstairs to enjoy the succulent, crispy meat alongside sunny side up eggs, two buttered pieces of toast and a big cup of coffee. Sounds heavenly on a Sunday morning, right? Wrong. According to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), your BLT, cold cut sandwich, sausage dinner or afternoon hot dog grilling party could come back to bite you. After a panel of 22 scientists from 10 countries reviewed 800 scientific studies, WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that eating processed meat, including bacon, cold cuts, sausage and hot dogs, have been found to increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer and eating red meats is “probably” carcinogenic. It was found that eating about 50 grams of processed meat daily will increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, which can be converted as less than two slices of bacon. To clear up any confusion, the IARC released a press release clearly defining processed and red meats on Monday, Oct. 26, stating: “Red meat refers to all types of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat. 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, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal or meat by-products such as blood. Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.”
IARC categorizes carcinogens by groups based on their cancer-causing potential. Processed meats were categorized in Group 1 Carcinogen, meaning that there is enough evidence to conclude that meat causes cancer in humans. Processed meats were placed in the same category as alcoholic beverages, mineral oils, ionizing radiation, diesel engine exhaust, estrogen and cigarettes. Red meats were placed in Group2A, meaning while there is strong evidence that it can cause cancer, the results are not conclusive. Diets high in red meat, although, are linked to pancreatic and prostate cancer, according to the IARC. The IARC reports that high-temperature cooking methods produce more carcinogenic compounds, but there was not enough data to determine whether the way meat is cooked affects the risk of cancer. The increased risk of getting cancer is small, but experts hope that these findings will influence people to have more reason to reduce meat out of their diets. Experts assure meat-lovers that there is no need to cut meat out entirely, but it is important to maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle and eat everything in moderation. Those who eat red meat can choose fish, poultry or beans as healthy alternatives or choose lean cuts and smaller portion sizes of red meat, according to the Cancer Society.