The long-running controversy over the true dangers of red meat came to a grinding halt this week when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that processed red meat can, in fact, lead to cancer. The decision was made after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a panel of 22 scientists and health experts within WHO, meticulously went over 800 studies on the topic. They published these findings in the journal The Lancet Oncology.
The IARC determined that processed meats such as hot dogs, ham, and bacon contain carcinogens for humans. In a press statement, the agency explained its conclusion was “based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.” In the report, based on this “sufficient evidence,” the IARC placed processed meat in Group 1. To put that into perspective, other Group 1 members include alcohol, asbestos, and tobacco.
For clarification purposes, being in the same group doesn’t necessarily mean eating processed meat is just as likely as smoking to cause cancer. It simply means the agency has just as much evidence that processed meat is carcinogenic as they do for tobacco. Nevertheless, just as a doctor wouldn’t tell you to go ahead and have a daily cigarette, same rules apply for bacon. In fact, the agency found eating just a 50-gram portion of processed red meat daily (that’s a measly 2 slices of bacon) increases your risk of colon cancer by a whopping 18%.
While the WHO certainly delved deep into this topic, it’s certainly not the first group to identify processed meat’s health dangers. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund have previously found that eating even a small portion of processed meats could increase risk of colorectal cancer. There’s also evidence it could increase the risk of other cancers, such as prostate and pancreatic cancer.
Plus, as many scientists and health-nuts have known for years, red meat can harm your body in a variety of other ways. Past studies have shown it can increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the cardiovascular arteries), kidney damage, and diabetes.