Hot Dogs Take a Hit: Processed Meat & Cancer Risk

In an article published in the journal The Lancet, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) deemed processed meat to be “carcinogenic to humans” based on sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer.

The working group of 22 experts from 10 countries assessed more than 800 epidemiological studies exploring the link between diet and cancer.

Processed meat is defined as “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.” Think bacon, hot dogs, jerkies and sausages.

While there has long-been an association between a plant-based diet and lower rates of certain types of cancer (and on the flip-side: a high meat intake and higher rates of certain types of cancer), this report firmly places processed meat in the Group 1 category – indicating “sufficient evidence” it can cause cancer.

Other substances in this prestigious “Group 1″ include tobacco, alcohol and asbestos. Although there is some risk associated with red meat and processed meat intake, the panel concluded that it is certainly less than smoking or alcohol.

But your processed meat intake does matter, and each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

For perspective, a typical hot dog link is about 75 grams. So your one-a-day frankfurter fetish could be putting you at elevated risk.

Now, to be fair, the relative risk of cancer from processed meats is still small: smoking can increase death of cancer by 20-fold – significantly more than processed meat ever likely will.

Additional information in the report about red meat classified it as “probably” carcinogenic based on “limited evidence”. With red meat, the cancer risk is more related to its cooking method than to the processing. Cooking red meats at very high temperatures can create potential carcinogens, among which are heterocyclic aromatic amines.

The takeaway message is: if you’ve been looking for more reasons to shift your plate to a plant-based diet, this added piece of data can help you make the push off of animals and towards your more friendly plant-based proteins.