Processed Meat and Cancer

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Bacon, ham, cold cuts—we get a lot of questions about processed meats, almost more than any other type of food. AICR sets the record straight on processed meats and their link to cancer.

Processed meat is meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or the addition of chemical preservatives. Processed meats include ham, salami, bacon and sausages such as frankfurters and chorizo.

AICR’s Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective, our Third Expert Report, found that eating even small amounts of cold cuts or other processed meats on a regular basis increases the risk of colorectal cancer. For processed meat, every 50 grams (about one hot dog or two slices of ham) eaten daily raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 16 percent. Therefore, AICR recommends that you eat little, if any, processed meat.

grilled, processed burger

The AICR Recommendation for fresh red meat (beef, pork and lamb) is to limit weekly amounts to 12 –18 ounces or less. It’s not necessary to completely avoid eating red meat. Meat can be a valuable source of nutrients, in particular protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. However, eating meat is not an essential part of a healthy diet.

You can meet your nutrient needs without eating any meat or processed meat. Try peanut butter or egg salad sandwiches or smear whole-wheat bagels with hummus for a quick and easy lunch. Focus on adding plenty of pulses (beans, lentils, dried peas), soy foods and whole grains to your plate. Black bean burritos, tofu stir fry with veggies and a lentil salad made with couscous all provide plenty of protein along with cancer-fighting fiber. If you would like to include animal-based protein, chicken, turkey, seafood  and eggs provide additional options as replacements to help you cut down on red and processed meats.

Learn more about processed meat here.

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Author: Ben Smith

Ben Smith is the Digital Communications Manager at AICR. He manages several of the organization’s newsletters as well AICR’s social media.

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