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Processed Meats Increase Your Risk of Colon Cancer

Some foods are better for you than others. Often it’s a judgment call about whether to indulge in so-called “bad” food if you enjoy it.

But our family practice doctors in Delray Beach want to make you aware of a new study which found that eating one quarter-pound beef burger daily raised the risk of developing colorectal cancer 20 percent. The study further found that such processed meats as bacon or sausage posed an even bigger risk of colorectal cancer than consuming red meat.

In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third most-common cancer, expected to cause approximately 51,000 deaths this year.


Study findings

The study, published in Oxford’s International Journal of Epidemiology, comprised a systematic analysis of over half-a-million men and women from the United Kingdom over five years. Researchers concluded that a small amount of processed meat equaled the same risk of developing colorectal cancer as a larger amount of red meat.

A quarter-pound burger equates to approximately 76 grams of meat; a slice of bacon, 25 grams; yet the increased colorectal cancer risk was about the same for each. The study found that the risk of colorectal cancer rose 20 percent with every 25 grams of processed meat, and by 19 percent with every 50 grams of red meat.

In one bit of good news, the study showed those who regularly ate high-fiber breads and cereals lowered their cancer risk by 14 percent.


Confirms previous studies

This latest study confirms earlier ones that highlighted the dangers of consuming red meat (i.e., beef, pork, lamb, and goat) and especially processed meats: hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. “Processed” means meat that has been treated in some way to preserve or flavor it, including salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat as a carcinogen; that is, something that causes cancer. In addition to colorectal cancer, their data showed a correlation between processed meat and stomach cancer, as well as a connection between red meat and cancers of the pancreas and prostate.


Why the increased risk?

Research has not pinpointed the reason why processed meat should pose such a danger to consumers, but preliminary findings point to the nitrites used to prevent processed meats from developing bacterial growth. During cooking, nitrites are converted to cancer-causing compounds known as nitrosamines.

Does this mean that if you have a strip of bacon every morning you’re definitely destined to develop colorectal cancer? Not necessarily. Cancer is a complex disease influenced by many factors, including genetics. And the risk of consuming processed and red meat is not nearly as high as some other lifestyle practices, like smoking.

But it does mean that, if you’re trying to stay healthy, processed meat and red meat should be an occasional indulgence rather than a significant part of your diet.

The best ways to avoid many types of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), are to limit red and processed meats, consume a diet high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, avoid tobacco, maintain a healthy weight, get regular physical exercise, and limit alcohol consumption.

If you have any questions about any aspect of your diet, be sure to ask us.

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