The World Health Organization announced last week that processed meats cause cancer and red meat could also be carcinogenic. Hot dogs, bacon, hamburguers and all this kind of food that billions of people around the World eat everyday are suddenly dangerous for your health. The World Health Organization managed to spread panic and every media was alerting of the risks. But was it worth it? Is it really that dangerous to eat processed and red meat?
The International Agency for research on Cancer (IARC), part of this United Nations Organization, included processed meat in the list of substances most likely to cause cancer, along with cigarette smoke, alcohol, plutonium or contaminated air. The World Health Organization also warned about the red meat which “probably” causes cancer. According to this study, this kind of meats are related to a higher incidence rate of colorectar cancer. However, it also explains that the aditional risk of this food for a person is limited. A consumption of 50 grams of processed meat increases an 18% the risk of having colorectal cancer, but the consumption has to be continuous for years. In conclusion, the risk for a person is quite small but it increases with the quantity consumed.
Men’s Health explained, in relation to what the World Health Organization panel studied, that “people who ate the most—more than 160 grams, which is the equivalent of eating three hot dogs or 5.6 ounces of steak every single day—had a 1.71 percent chance of getting colorectal cancer”. The magazine concludes that “for every 1000 people who eat the least amount of these meats, about 13 will get cancer. For every 1000 who eat the most, about 17 will develop the disease”.
With all the polemic this study has caused, the World Health Organization sent a statement clarifyng that they didn’t ask people to stop eating processed meat, they indicated that reducing the consumption of this kind of products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. In summary, reducing the processed meat, and even the red meat, consumption helps to avoid cancer, that is something the scientific community already knew and the World Health Organization had already published a study in 2002 including this information and recommending a limited meat consumption.
What is processed meat?
The American Meat Institute (AMI) gives this definition: “Processed meat and poultry products are a very broad category of many different types of products all defined by having undergone at least one further processing or preparation step such as grinding, adding an ingredient or cooking, which changes the appearance, texture or taste”. And the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) categorizes processed meat products in six groups:
1- Fresh processed meat products: hamburguers, fried sausage, kebab, chicken nuggets.
2- Cured meat pieces: rew cured beef, raw ham, cooked beef, cooked ham, reconstituted products, bacon.
3- Raw-cooked products: frankfurter, mortadella, lyoner, meat loaf.
4- Precooked-cooked products: liver sausage, blood sausage, corned beef.
5- Raw (dry)-fermented sausages: salami, some traditional Asian products.
6- Dried meat: dried meat strips or flat pieces (biltoing, beef jerkey, etc.), meat floss.