Limit Processed and Red Meat

World Health Organization Study Reports Red and Processed Meats Linked to Higher Cancer Risks

The World Health Organization working group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, consisting of 22 experts from 10 countries, classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A). There is strong evidence showing red meat—including beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat meats—can cause colorectal, pancreatic, or prostate cancer in humans, but at present it is not conclusive.

Processed meats — including ham, hot dogs, beef jerky, lunch meat, canned meat and even meat based preparations and sauces — were classified as Group 1. Sufficient evidence concludes that the consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. Results indicate that daily consumption of 50 grams, or just over 1.5 ounces, of processed meat increases a person’s risk for cancer by 18 percent. This risk is small, but it increases with the amount of processed meat eaten. The average serving of processed meat in a sandwich is closer to 100 grams or approximately 4 ounces.

What does this mean for consumers?

Consumers should:

  1. Recognize the strength of the research which states that red meat, and more so processed meat, increases a person’s risk for cancer. Recognize too that there are a host of other substances or foods that also increase risk for cancer.
  2. Avoid processed meats as much as possible.
  3. Cut back on red meat. Eat no more than 18 ounces of a cooked weight of red meat per week (up to 3 ounces cooked, 6 times a week or up to 6 ounces cooked, 3 times a week). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that all foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern, including red meat. Also include a variety of lean protein foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, and eggs into your eating plan.
  4. Include foods that have been shown to be protective against cancer (fruits and vegetables, whole grains, peas, and beans). Make it your goal to eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. A serving is one medium banana, apple, or orange; one-half cup of vegetables; or 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables. An easy way to meet this recommendation is to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables and make half of your grains whole grains.
  5. Adopt a healthy eating plan that:
    • Emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
    • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
    • Limits saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars.
    • Controls portion sizes.
  6. Engage in 30 or more minutes of physical activity on five or more days of the week. Physical activity is equally important as diet in preventing some types of cancers.
  7. Recognize that maintaining a healthy weight, consuming alcohol in moderation, and staying away from tobacco are also protective against several types of cancers.

In light of the World Health Organization news release, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics emphasizes a balance of food and beverages within energy needs, rather than any one food or meal. According to the Academy’s “Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating” position paper, when too much emphasis is given to a single food or food component, confusion and controversy can hinder, rather than facilitate, a consumer’s ability to adopt healthy dietary patterns.

Reference: World Health Organization. Press Release. IARC Monographs Evaluate Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat. Accessed October 26, 2015.

Written by Ingrid Adams, Extension Specialist for Nutrition and Weight Management, University of Kentucky; College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Edited by Lauren State, Oldham County Extension Staff Assistant. Reviewed by Chris Duncan, Oldham County Family & Consumer Science Agent.

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