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How Carcinogenic Are Processed and Red Meats?

Edited By: Natalia Jones
 What harm could just one extra sausage or strip of bacon do to your health, right? British scientists decided to answer that very question, and they have reached a striking conclusion: Just 25g (around 1 strip of bacon) of processed meat a day could increase your risk of developing bowel cancer by 20%. However, processed meat wasn’t the only category the research targeted as being capable of increasing your likelihood of getting bowel cancer, other food and drink categories were shown to have a similar effect. Read more on the research below.
bowel cancer and processed and red meat bacon hamburger

About the Study

A large study published in the Journal of Epidemiology followed almost half a million adult participants from the UK, both men and women in the age range of 40-69 years, for a period of 5 years with the goal of correlating dietary habits with the occurrence of bowel cancer. The study was conducted by the University of Oxford and Cancer Research UK.

The Epidemiology and Risks of Bowel Cancer

UK statistics report that, on average, bowel cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer, accounting for 12% of all the new cancer cases in the country. Bowel cancer is most common in the adult population, with the risk of developing the condition growing with age and peaking in the 80’s for both men and women.

The Results of the Study

But it’s not all bad news, and the same statistics supported by the above-mentioned study suggest that over 54% of the cases of bowel cancer can be prevented. This recent study sheds even more light on what kinds of foods should be limited or increased in your diet to minimize your risk of developing bowel cancer.These foods include:

bowel cancer and processed and red meat sausages and deli meats
  • Processed and red meat. People who ate 76g of red and processed meat a day were at a 20% higher risk of developing bowel cancer than those who stuck to a 21g daily average.
     
  • Alcohol. Consuming 10g or more alcohol daily increased the likelihood of developing bowel cancer by 8%.

The study also looked at other food groups, such as fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables, as well as such beverages as tea and coffee, but they didn’t find any correlation. Eating a lot of fiber-rich foods, on the other hand, such as cereals, bread and oats, seemed to have the opposite effect: it decreased the risk of developing bowel cancer by 14%.

bowel cancer and processed and red meat alcohol

Note that the study does not state that processed meat, red meat and alcohol should be completely cut out from your diet, as they recognize that breaking eating habits can be hard, but moderation is key. Try to have red meat-free days at least a few times a week and replace red and processed meat with alternative sources of protein, such as fish, poultry and legumes. You should be especially careful with smoked and cured meats, as those are the most carcinogenic. Also, limit drinking alcohol to weekends or holidays.

Take-home message. The study found that people who ate red and processed meat 4 or more times a week were 20% more likely to develop bowel cancer. Also, those who drank a pint or more beer daily were at an 8% higher risk of developing bowel cancer, so it’s important to limit your consumption of both processed meat, red meat and alcohol as much as you can. At the same time, it is recommended to increase your daily fiber intake, which can decrease your risk of developing the condition.

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