Recently our newspapers went to town on the latest World Health Organisation report on meat and in particular processed meat. With headlines like “Red meat gives you cancer” there was of course a case of histeria along with confusion. Especially with BBQ season well and truly here. So first off here is a summary of what the report actually said…
- It ranked bacon, ham and sausages alongside cigarettes as a major cause of cancer
- With each 50g of processed meat a day – the equivalent of one sausage, or less than two slices of bacon – increases the chance of developing bowel cancer by 18 per cent
- Listed processed meat as a cancer-causing substance, the highest of five possible rankings, shared with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes.
- Fresh red meat was ranked on the next level, as a “probable” carcinogen
- The classifications, by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), mean processed meat is officially regarded as “carcinogenic to humans”.
- Processed meats have been classed in the highest risk category, alongside smoking, it does not mean that each are an equal danger
- The classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence that a substance causes cancer, rather than the level of risk attached to it
- For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed
- Red meat – under which the IARC includes beef, lamb and pork – was classified as a “probable” carcinogen in its group 2A list that also contains glyphosate, the active ingredient in many weedkillers
- The lower classification for fresh red meat reflected “limited evidence” that it causes cancer. The IARC found links mainly with bowel cancer, but also observed associations with pancreatic and prostate cancer.
So what does this really me for you and I…..Here is an analogy that I have been loving since I heard it – while we know sun exposure CAUSES skin cancer, we don’t need to avoid the sun entirely. However, we do need to limit our exposure, to minimise our risk. The same can be said of processed meats. We don’t need to avoid them entirely but if you’re a big eater of processed meats, then it would be wise to look for other alternatives – such as fresh lean meats, seafood, poultry or better still, plant-based protein sources (eg legumes, nuts and seeds).
If you would like more help on nutrition and how to make sure you are consuming the correct level of meat and protein for you, contact NZ Registered Nutritionist Larissa Beeby for an appointment either online, in person or over the phone.
Director / NZ Registered Nutritionist