HealthONE - May 15, 2019

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), red meats like steak and ground beef, as well as processed meats like sausage and bacon, may increase a person's risk for colorectal cancer and possibly other cancers.

In 2015, the WHO reviewed more than 800 studies and found that eating more than 100 grams of red meat per day was associated with a 17 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer, which is often called colon cancer. The WHO report also revealed that individuals who eat more than 50 grams (about two pieces of bacon) of processed meat per day increased their colon cancer risk by 18 percent.

Types of meat that could be linked to an increased cancer risk

Red meat includes beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat. Processed meat refers to types of meats that have gone through a preservation or flavoring process, like salting, curing, fermentation and smoking.

In addition to the WHO report, other research has indicated a link between eating red meats and an increased risk of pancreatic, advanced prostate and stomach cancers. Presently, more research is needed to better understand the link between red meat/processed meat and cancer risk.

Why red meat may be carcinogenic

Although not conclusive, one theory is that red meat, when cooked at high temperatures, becomes carcinogenic. Cooking red meat may force the iron, or heme portions of the meat to convert into potentially carcinogenic compounds.

Conclusive evidence has revealed that processed meats do increase our risk of colon cancer. More research is needed on the link between processed meat and stomach cancers.

To be safe, limit your red meat intake

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that a person does not consume more than 18 ounces of red meat per week. Processed meats should be avoided altogether. The American Cancer Society also strongly suggests that people limit their red meat intake and opt for fish, chicken and vegetables instead.

A healthy diet includes vegetables, fruits, fiber, limited saturated fats and plant-based sources of protein. To cut back on red meat or processed meat, try joining the "Meatless Monday" movement, in which people eat nutritious vegetarian or vegan meals every Monday. This is a simple way to incorporate healthy plant-based proteins into your diet and increase your intake of veggies, whole grains and fruit.

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