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How Exactly is Red Meat Killing You

The science behind how bacon can kill

Published
Health News
2 min read
For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of the consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed (Photo: iStock)

You’ve probably read the headlines, processed meat is a ‘definitive cause’ of cancer and red meat is a ‘probable’ cause. Before you go in a collective sigh of exasperation, and conclude, ‘everything you love causes cancer’, get the basics covered.

For every 50 grams of processed meat, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 18%. The World Health Organisation reached this result after 22 scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer evaluated more than 800 studies from various countries.

Though this is not totally ground breaking, it has been known since long that processed meats are high in sodium and fatty acids - but exactly how is processed meat causing cancer is still not clear, the report published in medical journal The Lancet, has fleshed out three hypothesis:

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Death By Bacon

(Photo: The Quint)
(Photo: The Quint)

What Are ‘Red’ and ‘Processed’ Meat?

As the name suggests, red meat is any meat that’s dark in colour before it’s cooked - so lamb, beef and pork.

Processed meat is meat that’s not fresh but instead has been cured, salted, smoked or otherwise preserved by some method or the other - so sausages, hot dogs, ham, salami, popperoni, all fall in this category.

Both of these types of meat are distinct from ‘white’ meats, like fresh chicken or turkey, and fish (neither of which appear to increase your risk of cancer).

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Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Bacon?

Dethroned- red meat from the healthy diet list (Photo: iStock)
Dethroned- red meat from the healthy diet list (Photo: iStock)

So the nitrates and the roasting are two of the prime reasons of DNA-altering chemical release, which is the first step towards the big C. So if a person goes for a turkey bacon is that safe?

NOPE.

The cancer link applies to all processed meats; red or white. The only advantage white has over red is that it does not have heme iron in it but since it is not known exactly how processed meat causes cancer, we cannot say white is safer than red.

And what if someone bought ‘nitrate -free’ meat from a reputed grocery store?

NOPE. Again.

Nitrate-free meat treated with nitrate salts extracted from celery- natural nitrates are still nitrates and the body cannot distinguish between them.

Just to clarify once again, the research does not imply, that everyone should turn vegetarian. Eating a single meat-based meal is not going to kill you but it implies that regularly eating large amounts of red and processed meat, over a period of time, will up your risk of cancer.

Meat is fine in moderation, it’s a good source of protein, iron and zinc. It’s just about being sensible, and not eating too much, too often.

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