Processed Meats And Cancer Risk

All meats are not created equal, and the worst offenders are probably processed meats.  These include any meats that have been treated with nitrate and nitrites for preservation which typically would be bacon, sausage, ham (most of your pork products other than chops and loin), hot dogs, as well as sandwich meats such as salami, bologna, and even highly-preserved turkey (such as pre-packaged deli meat).

A recent review of 11 studies on the link between cancer and processed meat showed that there is a 20% increase in cancer risk (for pancreatic and colon) with the consumption of only 1.5 oz. of processed meat per day.  This is the equivalent of about 1.5 slices of bacon.  Not very much.  This review also showed an increase in men who consumed red meat (but not in women).  The theory is that women do not consume as much red meat, and therefore did not see the same results. [1]

Pancreatic cancer is on the rise in the U.S. and is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths. This is perhaps because it is not easily detected, and once it is found it is often too late (mortality rate for pancreatic cancer shows a 25% survival rate at year 1 and 6% survival at year 5).

This doesn’t mean you should never have bacon again (it is the only pork product I consume, because many of us just adore the taste!), but keep consumption to a minimum.  Processed meats should not be a part of daily diet, and with such an increased risk of cancer, there should be good reason to replace most of your processed meats with natural meats that are not treated with nitrates, nitrites, and other preservatives.

The best way to do this is to seek out local farmers in your area that raise their own meat.  I was happy to recently find that a small apple farm in my town also sells local meats, eggs, milk, and produce.  You may be surprised to learn that your community offers a lot of local food that you don’t know about.

In addition, look for grocery stores that offer organic, non-nitrate treated meats.  Yes, these may cost a $1 or 2 more, but any attempt at preventing a deadly cancer  is worth the extra cost.

[1] British Journal of Cancer, Jan. 31., 2012; abstract at <dx.doi.org/10.1038/b

About Kimberly Dawson, M.S.

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