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You’ve probably heard the news on the International Agency for Research on Cancer and World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent report “Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat,” which found positive links between consuming red and processed meats and 18 types of cancer.

The organization concluded there is enough evidence to place processed meats into the “Carcinogenic to Humans” category, which is the highest class of cancer causing agents (the same category as cigarettes). Additionally, there’s also evidence that eating red meats may cause cancer, as they were assigned to the “Probably Carcinogenic to Humans” group.

Although this report has received a lot of recent news coverage, it confirms previous recommendations already made by WHO, the American Cancer Society and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (you can read a summary of their analysis in a recent report on preventing colon cancer). 

“This report is a major step forward in increasing public awareness about a food that is highly popular worldwide and a staple for many households,” Dr. Christine L. Sardo Molmenti, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University, says. “Combined with the extensive research available and support of multiple organizations, we can begin to work together to provide and promote alternatives to red and processed meat to reduce the risk of cancer worldwide.”

How does meat become “processed”?

Processed meats are created by curing, salting, smoking or preserving with additives. You can find information about how a meat was processed on the ingredient list.

Is it ok to have some processed meat and red meat?

Red meat can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. It has nutritional value and is an excellent source of protein, B vitamins and some minerals. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting red meat intake to less than 18 ounces per week.

If you do choose to eat processed meats, limit how often you eat them, reduce portion sizes and replace smoked processed meat with fresh meat.

What are some examples of processed or cured meats?

  • bacon
  • ham
  • hot dogs and sausages
  • bologna, cold cuts, salami, pastrami and pepperoni
  • beef jerky
  • smoked fish and smoked BBQ meats
  • canned meat, meat-based preparations and some meat sauces

What are some examples of red meats?

  • beef
  • veal
  • pork
  • lamb
  • mutton
  • horse
  • goat

For more examples, visit the American Institute for Cancer Research.

What are other protein foods I can serve my family?

There are many other foods that offer healthy nutrition and can be delicious!

  • fish
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • nuts
  • beans
  • eggs
  • low-fat dairy products

Come back for Part 2 where we'll discuss reducing your cancer risk and ways to incorporate more plant foods. 

This blog was written by:

Rhone Levin, RDN, CSO, LD

Oncology Dietitian at Savor Health

Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. 


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