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Are processed meats carcinogenic?

Posted by Aisling Murray on

Moderation is the key

On the 26th of October 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report on the cancer causing effects of processed meats and red meat. Over the next two weeks in the Examiner I will look at this report in a bit more detail. My main message is that “too much of anything is bad for us”. This is true for healthy foods as well as less healthy foods. Treating yourself to the odd rasher and sausage is no harm once it is not a regular part of your diet.


Processed food

Since starting college in 2008 I have read numerous articles on the cancer causing properties of several foods including processed meat. The article from the WHO came as no surprise to me or to many others. Processed meat is just that, it’s a processed meaning the food undergoes a number of processes such as salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation. 


Examples of processed meat include sausages, rashers, hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, salami, corned beef, and canned meat. The methods and chemicals used to process the meat are thought to induce a carcinogenic effect in the human digestive system. It’s important to know that the meat itself is not carcinogenic; it’s the modification to increase its shelf-life or to improve its taste which can lead to cancer. WHO stated in the article that processed meats are the reason for the increase in bowel cancer throughout our society. The likes of non-processed foods like the red meat you get in your butcher is safer as it doesn’t have additives (but always remember to eat red meat in moderation).


Study of nearly half a million Europeans

The study from WHO included 448,568 participants from 10 European countries, including the UK, and the results concluded that the biggest consumers of processed meat were 44% more likely to die prematurely. High levels of consumption increased the risk of death from heart disease by 72% and cancer by 11% according to the publication. Due to these results, WHO has now classified processed meat as carcinogens. The statements were made after consulting the findings of WHO specialised cancer research group called the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The conclusion that eating two slices of bacon daily can increase someone’s chances of getting bowel cancer by a fifth came from researching over 800 studies.


I always recommend to my clients to eat processed and red meats in moderation; lean meat such as chicken, turkey and fish are more preferable in the diet and processed meats should be limited to once a week.


Whelehans Nutrition Service

Whelehans nutritional service is a private one to one advice service with our nutritionist Aisling Murray. Aisling’s areas of interest include weight loss management, nutrition education and food intolerance. Our nutrition service offers you the chance to change your life in an affordable but positive way by focusing on your overall wellbeing as well as the chance to follow up on your progress.


To be continued….next week


Aisling Murray has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and offers a one to one specialist nutrition service at Whelehans Pharmacy. Call Whelehans at 04493 34591 for an appointment


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