What Meat’s Cancer Link Means for Your Diet

Just this October, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), released a strong stance on red meat and processed meat. Red meat was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and processed meat was classified as “carcinogenic to humans.”

This was based on a review of research over the last few decades that links higher intake of these meats to colorectal cancer and potentially other cancers as well. According to the research, two pieces of bacon each day (or 50 grams of processed meat) increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

The recommendation to limit red and processed meats in the diet is nothing new, though. The WHO recommended only moderate consumption of preserved meat in 2002 to reduce the risk of cancer. Research since then has only strengthened this recommendation for disease prevention. Many diets and eating patterns today already advise people to limited red and processed meat, such as MyPlate’s healthy eating pattern, the DASH diet for heart health, and the Mediterranean Diet.

So what’s the takeaway from the WHO’s recent classification of red and processed meats? Moderation!

Red and processed meats can be OK in small amounts, but continue to limit your total intake of these meats that are often high in unhealthy saturated fat and sodium. Aim to vary your protein choices to include lean chicken, turkey, fish, and even eggs, beans, and nuts. Instead of a hot dog for lunch, try a sandwich with lean chicken breast. Instead of beef tacos for dinner, give fish tacos a try.

This video about choosing healthy beef options and this video about choosing healthy seafood can you help you pick the healthiest meat options. Skipping the meat? Check out these vegetarian dishes.

Limiting red and processed meats can decrease your cancer risk, and choosing lean protein instead can even help to promote heart health!

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Chloe Plummer, MS, RD, LD, is a clinical dietitian with ProMedica Advocacy and Community Health. Her column, Nutrition at the Table, appears on HealthConnect each month.