It has been known for some time, and confirmed in a report last year from the World Health Organization, that processed meats increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Processed meats are also known to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
So what are processed meats? They are meats that have been salted, smoked and/or cured for flavor and preservation. They include bacon, salami, bologna, ham, and other deli meats, and hot dogs. Unprocessed meats include fresh beef, lamb, pork, etc.
For any known carcinogen, the effect depends on the dose or amount of exposure. High levels of exposure (consumption) can be quite risky, while low levels may be significantly safer. To prevent colorectal cancer, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends avoiding processed meats except on special occasions. The AICR has concluded that eating about two ounces of processed meat each day leads to an 18% increase in colorectal cancer. AICR also recommends limiting unprocessed red meat consumption to 18 ounces per week. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (based on a review of research on processed meats and risk of heart disease and diabetes, but not cancer,) concluded that that one serving of processed meat per week (three ounce serving) is associated with low risk.
It is not clear why processed meat poses an increased heath risk more than unprocessed meat. Research is looking at the possibility that higher levels of sodium and preservatives like nitrates are responsible for the higher health risk.
Based on the available evidence, the safe amount of processed meat probably falls between the AICR’s “only on special occasions” recommendation, and three ounces per week.
For more information regarding healthy eating and lifestyle changes, talk to a registered dietician or an ACE certified Health Coach (Janet Hunt at 256-614-3530).
By: Janet Hunt
Janet Hunt is a Certified Personal Trainer and can be reached at 256-614-3530 to schedule an appointment.