The World Health Organization announcement that red meat and processed foods – meaning meat that has been transformed through salting, fermentation, smoking and various other processes which are used to improve flavor – are now widely recognized as causing cancer. Additionally, such categorizations also extend to products treated in order to prolong their shelf lives, including bacon, ham, sausages, tinned meats, meat sauces and red meats themselves (beef, pork, goat and lamb).
Officials in charge of the study reference dietary advice stating that consuming 50 grams of processed meat products a day can increase the risk of colon cancer by 18%, while eating 100 grams of red meat can increase that risk by an additional 17%.
After numerous studies and research into the association between the consumption of red meat and colon cancer, the WHO revised its own research into the 50 most common ingredients in Western processed products. The WHO’s 22-person strong international team of experts from 10 countries found that 40 of the products had an effect on a person’s risk of developing cancer. Processed meat is now categorized as a group 1 substance (the same group to which arsenic, asbestos, alcohol and tobacco belong), while red meat is now categorized as a group 2A substance, placing it at the level that is recognized as “probably” causing colon cancer. A large number of the 34,000 lives lost to cancer around the world each year are believed to be a result of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.
Potassium nitrate is one of the most widely-used chemical substances applied in the process of treating meats in order to extend the shelf life of the product as well as to increase its aesthetic qualities. Nitrate preservatives and sodium nitrate are used to help prevent bacteria from spreading. However, these substances are all recognized to cause cancer, and the longer the body is exposed to these types of ingredients, the higher the chance of the consumer developing colon cancer.
Moreover, red meats already contain high levels of saturated fats that are closely associated with the onset of colon cancer, especially when they have undergone heat treatment as this leads to the presence of heterocyclic amine (HCA) alongside polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). The latter substance also occurs as a result of grilling or barbecuing foods and, if the fat from these meats is allowed to drip onto the coals used in cooking them, the resulting smoke produced is yet another chemical capable of causing cancer.
Reducing red meat and processed meat intake can significantly decrease the risk of developing colon cancer. Additionally, increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber is strongly recommended as this substance aids the body’s absorption of important vitamins and nutrients, as well as helps to smooth the digestion, thereby reducing the likelihood of constipation, another risk factor behind the onset of colon cancer. Nevertheless, if eating red meat is something that you do not want to live without, then cooking that meat by boiling or steaming instead of grilling or barbecuing will be much more beneficial to your health.
Moreover, regular exercise, sufficient rest and finding ways to relieve or prevent stress can all be highly beneficial in terms of ensuring a healthy body, fully equipped with a strong immune system capable of protecting itself against deadly diseases like cancer.
We simply cannot ignore official announcements such as the one made recently by this internationally respected organization, which has taken numerous worldwide studies into account, because adhering to its advice could ensure that we steer well clear of colon cancer. In addition to following the recommendations included in the announcement, we really should not overlook the importance of attending annual health checkups as these appointments may enable the swift identification of a health disorder at its outset, allowing for immediate treatment to take place, and increasing the chances of treatment being successful.
Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University , 2009