Put down that hot dog. A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has linked processed meat with cancer.

WHO's cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), analyzed 800 scientific studies dating back to 1966 about the effects of eat red and processed meat and found that red meat consumption is "probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect." 

The most common cancer was colorectal cancer. IARC stated, however, that the cancer risk was small, but the group felt it was noteworthy that the risk for this cancer increases with processed meat consumption. For each 50-gram (1.7 oz) portion of processed meat eaten daily, the risk of colorectal cancer increases 18%. Some believe the nitrates used to cure meats is the problem because the body may convert them into cancer-causing agents.

Applegate Farms, a manufacturer of nitrate-free natural hot dogs, ham and other meats, said on its Facebook page, "The IARC evaluates all possible hazards – they do not translate this into actual risk from that hazard, or in this case the likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer. We face a wide range of hazards in everyday life – what people need to know is how to take action to reduce their risk. When it comes to processed meat – or any meat, research continues to show that meat can fit into a healthy lifestyle when enjoyed in moderation and as part of an overall balanced diet. We believe in changing the meat we eat, which means making products that come from animals that are humanely raised, without antibiotics, and are free of GMO and artificial ingredients. We think this is better for animals, the planet and people."

Meanwhile, nutrition expert Jonny Bowden, C.S., counters the WHO report by saying that an 18% increase is actually very little. Based on the WHO report, he says that one's risk of developing cancer from eating processed meat raises one's risk from 0.043% to 0.051%.

The researchers included in its definition of processed meat hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef and beef jerky.

The data are published in The Lancet Oncology.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2015, online 10/27/15, updated 11/5/15