We have been warned about the dangers of eating processed food, and the toxic effects they have on our bodies and over health. But a new study by the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, says that eating as little as two slices of bacon can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The findings, which were released on Monday, have stirred up the ongoing debate of the healthfulness of a meat-based diet. Vegetarians surely feel strengthened in their convictions, as the study illuminated the fact that eating processed meat can lead to bowel cancer, red meat being the likely cause of this. Beef, lamb, and pork are all considered to be in the red meat category.
According to the IARC, processed meat like cold-cuts and hot dogs are categorized in Group 1 of the carcinogen list. What this means, is that there is "sufficient evidence" of their links to cancer. This group includes other known carcinogens like tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes. Overall, the study found that the risk of developing colorectal cancer by eating processed meat is small, but increases with proportion the amount of meat consumed. The agency, and health experts working on this study, estimated a 50 gram portion of processed, if eaten every day, increases the risk of colorectal, or bowel, cancer by 18%.
Red meat, like beef, lamb and pork (not the processed kind), was classified by the WHO organization as a "probable" carcinogen. This puts red meat in group 2A, with other probable carcinogens. Group 2A includes glyphosate, an active ingredient in various weed killers. This classification denotes that red meat has “limited evidence” that it causes cancer, compared to processed meat to which there is “sufficient evidence” of causing cancer. The study found that red meat was mainly linked to bowel cancer, but was also associated with both prostate and pancreatic cancers.
This study was the first time the IARC cancer research agency had looked into the effect of meat on associated cancer risk. To do so they reviewed around 800 studies. And although they found that meat increases your risk of developing cancer, its potency as a carcinogen is definitely does not compare the level of cancer risk associated with other products in the same category, like cigarettes. That is not to say processed red meat is not bad for you. The Global Burden of Disease Project, estimates that 34,000 cancer deaths per year, globally, are due to diets high in processed meat. Deaths from tobacco smoking, or alcohol are much higher, putting the yearly death toll at 1 million and 600,000 cancer deaths respectively.
Some countries are a step ahead, as they have health policies that call for a limit to processed and red meat consumption. These policies focused on heart disease and obesity risks, but now cancer risk should also be a driving force. The meat industry might now be happy about this, but limiting meat consumption may be on the horizon even for the U.S. where it is a staple of everyday