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Does Processed Meat Really Cause Cancer?

Discover the dangers of consuming processed meat.

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There has been a lot of talk lately about the risks of processed meat and red meat. Traditionally, processed meats and lean, red meats have been labeled safe in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Understanding the risks can be a challenge, when the American diet has been so heavy in consumption of red and processed meat for so long.

Red meat refers to animal muscle meat such as beef, veal, port or lamb while the term processed meat refers to meat that has been altered by salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes including preservation methods. Processed meats may also contain animal byproducts, which include things like blood and the offal, or liver and other organs. The term processed meats refers to sausages, hot dogs, ham, corned beef, beef jerky, and canned meats among others.

Both red and processed meats contain carcinogens (cancer causing compounds) and high levels of consumption have been linked to higher rates of colorectal, stomach, breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers. Processed meats especially may also contain high sodium levels which are also associated with high blood pressure and have been shown to correspond with cardiovascular disease. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent announcement, as little as 50 grams (2-3 slices of bacon) of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Other Protein Options

So, if we are going to cut out lean red meat, how do we replace that source of protein? With a little planning, there are many vegetarian options for healthy protein sources. Vegetarian sources of protein include green peas (7.9 grams per cup), quinoa (8 grams per cup), and a variety of beans and nuts.

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Larsson, S.C. and Orsini, N. (2013). Red meat and processed meat consumption and all-cause mortality: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology. 179(3). Retrieved on 10/29/15 from

Santarelli, R.L.; Pierre, F. & Corpet, D.E. (2008). Processed meat and colorectal cancer: a review of epidemiologic and experimental evidence. Nutrition and Cancer. 60(2): 131-144. Retrieved on 10/29/15 from

Xia Wang, Xinying Lin, Ying Y Ouyang, Jun Liu, Gang Zhao, An Pan and Frank B Hu. (2015). Red and processed meat consumption and mortality: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Public Health Nutrition. Accessed on 10/29/15 from

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