Processed, Red Meat…CANCER!

I am a little late getting to this one, but I figured my new wife wouldn’t have been too happy with me writing a blog post while sitting at the head table of our wonderful wedding. It truly was a perfect day and night, and I couldn’t be happier!


Thinking back about it, I ate some red meat after the ceremony (roast beef) and red meat at the reception (braised short ribs) and red and processed meat the morning after (breakfast sausage and bacon). It was my wedding, it only happens once, so lay off!

I am assuming by now that you have seen the latest media story regarding the World Health Organization (WHO) making the statement that red meat and processed meat will cause cancer. Ok, maybe some of them aren’t as direct or harsh, but it seems like every time a review or study comes out regarding anything dietary, the media quickly jumps on it, skews it, and then smears it all over until we all fear said food from said news story.

First off, I am not saying this huge study is wrong, but I am saying that it has been extremely simplified and we don’t have to stop eating red meat, or even processed meats, all together.

Point 1 – There is a difference between red meat, and processed meat.

Some of the worst instances of reporting this study completely lump red meat and processed meat into the same category. Processed meats are sausages, bacon, cheap lunch meats, and other garbage “meats”. These meats commonly contain much higher levels of fat, and high levels of compounds that are more easily converted to N-nitroso compounds (NOCs), which can damage the gut lining – thus leading to more DNA damage and potential for colorectal cancer (the main form of cancer discussed in the WHO findings). High quality red meats are much lower in these compounds and are much safer in the diet – as long as they are not burnt (more in a second).

Point 2 – Overall diet still trumps one food group.

Sure, if you eat nothing but hotdogs and SPAM for your life, you are probably lacking tons of essential nutrients and significantly increasing your risk for colorectal cancer. Not sure why this is new news people. As with most things that can be bad for your health, it is extremely dose dependent. Yes, eating bacon and sausage every single day is bad for you and you are increasing your risk for cancer. Eating them once in a while or even once a week, while following a general healthy diet otherwise, should not put you at any significant greater risk.

Rather than fearing all red meats and processed meats, take a look at your overall diet. Eating plenty of vegetables, fiber, and fruits can have a positive effect on cancer risk. I’m not saying that if you eat tons of veggies with your hotdogs you will be safe, but there are other nutrients out there that will help your body as well.

Point 3 – Avoid the Char

The one clear-cut carcinogen is charred or burnt meat. Charred meat can damage the gut, especially if you are eating it over and over. Try to avoid eating charred meats as much as possible. From cancer.gov –

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame (1). In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic—that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

Good news is that eating cruciferous veggies like broccoli and brussels sprouts can help decrease these compounds as well!

Point 4 – There are many other significant factors linked to colorectal cancer – one of them being obesity.

Its kind of a chicken vs. the egg story. I understand that the studies show causation from processed meats and colorectal cancer. However, colorectal cancer is one of the more prominent forms of cancer among the obese population. I’m not saying that skinny and fit people can load up on the bacon and be just fine, but when you throw obesity into the picture as well, there is an increased risk. If you are obese, focus on losing weight and going on a healthy balanced eating plan to help reduce body fat along with your overall cancer risk. Yes, this means ditching the bacon too.


Bottom Line:

Avoid crappy processed meats as much as possible, try not to scorch your food on an open flame, eat your vegetables, exercise regularly, stick to more lean forms of protein, and it’s okay to have the Chicago style dog or bacon for breakfast once in a while – just don’t make it a staple of your normal diet.

Like what you read? Want to get up to date blog posts sent directly to your email? Sign up below!


Stay healthy my friends,

Published by Mike Gorski

Registered Dietitian and Fitness Coach OWNER OF MG FIT LIFE LLC

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: