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Hold the Bacon: Processed Meat Can Cause Cancer

Hold the Bacon: Processed Meat Can Cause Cancer

You probably know that regularly eating bacon and other processed meats can clog your arteries – and it won’t do you any favors if you’re trying to drop a few pounds. But now the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer has issued a report with more bad news. The report, issued by a group of 22 scientists, has labeled processed meat—including bacon, hot dogs, sausage and the like—as “carcinogenic,” putting them in the same danger zone as cigarettes and asbestos, and red meat as “probably carcinogenic.”

This comes as no surprise. “There’s been consistent evidence that processed foods and red meat are a risk factor when it comes to cancer,” says Sharecare Chief Medical Officer Keith Roach, MD. “This report isn’t based on new information.  [The researchers] looked at previously published reports, put it together and came up with some broad conclusions and recommendations.”

Dr. Roach says that eating just two ounces of processed meat a day can increase colon cancer risk by 17 percent. “Stomach cancer is mentioned in the report, but the risk [with processed meat] is most clear with the colon,” he said. According to the report, eating red meat can increase the risk of pancreatic and prostate cancer.

So what do we mean by processed meat? “It’s foods that have been processed in a way to enhance flavor or preserve it,” says Roach. “That would include foods that are salted, cured, fermented or smoked.” Red meat poses a health problem too, “but it’s half as bad as processed,” says Roach.

While the report groups processed meats with carcinogenic substances like asbestos and tobacco, there’s an important distinction. “The report is saying that as a carcinogen, [processed meat] increases your cancer risk, but it’s not being put in the same league as smoking,” Roach says. In terms of your RealAge, “eating a lot of red meat can age you by six months to year,” says Roach. “Smoking ages you by eight years.”

The bottom line: To cut your colon cancer risk and improve your overall health, skip the salami sandwich at the deli, and go for turkey with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat instead.