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A common question patients will ask their Rochester nutritionist is “what are the dangers of eating processed meat regularly?” The topic is discussed to great depths on social media. Many people have varying opinions on the dangers associated with processed meats and will toss in random percentages or studies to support their claim. These can be hard to decipher and make it difficult for someone to understand the data and real associated risks. Let’s talk about what the actual risks are for consuming processed meats, what those risks mean for the average person, and what you can do to minimize those risks as much as possible.

What is processed meat?

In 2018 the international agency for research on cancer (IARC) released a report on processed meats. These included foods such as bacon, ham, hotdogs, sausages, and lunch meats. The report concluded that these meats are “cancer-causing” and labeled them as a group 1 carcinogen. Some other notable group 1 carcinogens are tobacco and asbestos.

The classification doesn’t mean you are going to get cancer if you eat processed meat. What is described by the IARC is an increase in what is called “relative risk”. The report concluded that for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily, the relative risk for colorectal cancer is increased by 18%. 50 grams is equal to about one hotdog or sandwich.

What does "relative risk" mean for me?

Many people may see 18% and immediately think that that is a massive increase in risk; we have to recognize that this is an increase only in relative risk. The lifetime risk of colon cancer is 5%. Adding red meat boosts the risk by 18%, meaning the new lifetime risk increases to around 6%. While this may not seem like a large increase to one individual, a 1% increase would be an extra 25,000 cases in the US alone.

To really put things into perspective, secondhand smoke also has an 18% relative risk for lung cancer. Many people will be offended when a person smokes cigarettes around their children but won’t be concerned about them eating a bologna sandwich for lunch every day. 

Why are these two viewed so differently even though the relative risk is the same? Convenience plays a major factor when considering the pros and cons of processed meat. It is very easy to ignore a 1% increase risk in something when you need to make lunch for 4 kids every single day.

What can I do to reduce processed meat intake?

Ultimately, to reduce the risk of cancer from processed meats you are going to have to reduce the intake in any way you can. At first, try reducing the servings per day; if you are eating two meals a day with processed meat, try cutting it down to one. Another way would be to reduce the serving size used in meals. If a pasta dish calls for a pound of processed meat, try only adding half a pound. This keeps the texture and taste the same while reducing the overall meat serving.

Next, you could try swapping out processed meat for a healthier alternative. Fish or chicken are the healthier meat alternatives but non-processed beef or pork can also be used. Another option is to learn how to cook a few meatless meals. Having a couple of healthy vegetarian meals in your weekly rotation is an excellent way to reduce processed meat intake.

If you want to learn more about the risks associated with different foods or are interested in learning more about the changes recommended above, schedule an appointment with your nutritionist in Rochester. At Rush-Henrietta Family Chiropractic, Our Rochester chiropractor has been helping people make dietary modifications that are easy to incorporate into their current lifestyles. Schedule a free nutrition consultation and learn how you can live a healthier life.