The World Health Organization is set to declare that processed meats such as bacon, sausages, and ham be classified as carcinogenic(cancer causing) foods.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.
Processed meat is set to be classified as carcinogenic to humans(Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. 
This puts processed meat firmly in the same category as tobacco smoking and Plutonium for their risk of causing cancer.
The bad news for those who enjoy bacon and sausages for breakfast daily is that the review found – “Experts concluded that each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by a staggering 18%.”
But before we all start panicking and irrationally removing all animal foods from our diets, let’s put what this review found into perspective.
Processed Meat & Cancer Link
Processed meats refer to any meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, smoking, fermenting or other processes to enhance flavor or increase preservation.
I believe due to increased nutritional awareness, most individuals are now well aware that processed foods are generally not considered healthy and should be kept to a minimum in the diet if consumed at all.
However, some individuals will not be aware that many of their favorite foods are highly processed such as bacon/turkey bacon, cold cut meats(ham etc) which are a very popular lunch ingredient here in the United Kingdom, sausages much like bacon are also a common breakfast food.
Some examples of processed meats include bacon, sausages, smoked/cured meats, hot dogs, salami, pastrami, biltong, beef jerky and corned beef.
It is still not clear the exact mechanism why these foods increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer, with the research focusing heavily on the nitrites used as preservatives, the high salt content, the large amounts of iron in red meats and the high cooking temperatures often used to process these foods.
Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme claimed “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,”. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
A group of 22 experts classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic” to humans, based on “limited evidence” that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans, such as an increased risk of developing colorectal cancers.
Now I hear pro-vegetarians and vegan’s rejoicing everywhere, but before we get ahead of ourselves, the key criteria here is that this recommendation was based on limited evidence.
Advisor’s also warned about the potential consequences of removing animal foods such as red meat from the diet completely as in the case of strict vegan diets.
We have to remember that red meats are a great source of many important nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and minerals such as Iron and Zinc. A mountain of robust scientific evidence has now confirmed that vegetarians and in particular strict vegans are typically deficient in the above nutrients, which is the result of removing all animal foods from the diet.
Removing animal foods such as red meat from the diet can significantly raise an individual’s risk of developing serious nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B12, Iron, and Zinc. The consequence of vitamin B12 deficiency is a very serious condition known as hyperhomocysteinemia, which is a proven factor that increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke.
However, as the studies confirm, if we consume too much red meat we may potentially be at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, so dietary balance is very important.
The key criteria here is in the frequency of red meat consumption and aiming to strive for a balanced diet. A small amount of red meat weekly should have nothing but beneficial effect for most individuals, by providing many basic essential nutrients that are prone to being low in strict vegetarian diets.
Not all red meats are created equal either. Always choose the highest quality red meats that you can afford, preferably grass-fed, pasture raised beef.
1. IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat
The information in this article has not been evaluated by the FDA and should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.