If you and your family love eating hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham and cold cuts, you may have been troubled by the mass media coverage following a new study, which found that eating these types of processed meats causes colorectal cancer. On top of that, red meat was identified as a probable cause of colorectal cancer. The risk of cancer appears to increase with the amount of red and processed meat you eat. What does this all mean? Let’s break it down.
What are processed meats?
- Processed meat is meat that has been salted, cured, fermented or smoked to enhance its flavour or extend its shelf life.
- Examples of processed meat include: hot dogs (frankfurters), bacon, ham, sausages, cold cuts, deli meats and beef jerky.
- Most processed meats are made with beef or pork. They can also be made with chicken, turkey or fish.
What are red meats?
- Red meats typically eaten in Canada include: beef, veal, pork, lamb and goat.
Does this mean you can’t eat processed meats anymore?
- There is enough scientific evidence to conclude that eating processed meat is a cause of colorectal cancer. If you regularly eat processed meat, this new report may motivate you to shift your food choices.
- If you enjoy eating processed meats, limit them to occasional choices, like eating a hot dog once in a while at a sports game, rather than daily or weekly. It’s how you eat on a day-to-day basis that determines if your diet is healthy or not.
- The idea of never eating bacon or a hot dog again might seem unreasonable to you. As a first step, try eating processed meats less often and in smaller portions.
What about grilling meat on the barbeque?
- No need to sell the barbeque. Check out these cancer prevention tips for grilling safely.
Other food ideas instead of red or processed meat:
- Choose an omelette filled with peppers, onions, mushrooms and cheese instead of bacon or sausage with eggs for a weekend breakfast.
- Choose roasted chicken, egg, tuna or salmon salad fillings in your sandwich or wrap rather than ham, cold cuts or bacon.
- Explore options from other cultures like a Mediterranean falafel wrap, Mexican bean burrito or Japanese sushi.
- Fresh chicken, turkey or fish can replace deli meats and cold cuts.
- Try spicy vegetarian sausages (often found next to tofu in grocery stores).
- Experiment with other high protein foods like eggs, cottage cheese, tofu and hummus.
- Cut it out, swap it out and bulk it out. Check out this great infographic for ideas on how to reduce the amount of red and processed meat you eat.
About 50% of colorectal cancers can be prevented if you:
- Eat a variety of high fibre foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lentils and beans.
- Limit your intake of alcohol.
- Reduce your intake of processed and red meats.
- Make physical activity a regular part of your day.
BC Cancer Agency: Colorectal Cancer
American Institute for Cancer Research: Bacon, Hot Dogs and Lunch Meat – Is it Processed Meat?
American Institute for Cancer Research: The Prevention of Colorectal Cancer
World Health Organization: Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat
World Health Organization Press Release: IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat
Cancer Research UK: Processed meat and cancer - what you need to know