Processed Meat: Is it Cancer Causing and as Dangerous as Smoking?

Processed Meat: Is it Cancer Causing and as Dangerous as Smoking?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently released a report classifying processed meats as Group 1 carcinogens claiming a link to bowel cancer. They also have placed red meat in Group 2A as "probably carcinogenic to humans".

The problem stemming from most scientific based research studies is two-fold. First off, correlation does not always imply causation. Previously, there was said to be a strong correlation between consuming coffee and heart disease. However, various other factors were not taken into account such as the fact that most coffee drinkers also were smokers.

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In this instance correlation and causation were not exclusively related. All variables must be taken into account in order to truly say that X causes Y.

The second problem with scientific research studies is that the organization funding the program may have a predetermined bias prior to conducting their studies. If you examine any two factors hard enough a link can be drawn and an assumption can be made.

Michael Jackson consumes water on the day of his death, therefore water is the cause of his death right?


One former independent nutritional consultant that worked for the meat industry said red meat was linked to 3 additional cases of bowel cancer per 100,000 adults in developed countries. This number is so minuscule that no remote connection can be made. The margin of error alone in this study is likely to be greater than 3 cases.

The much bigger risk factors for cancer are obesity and lack of exercise. The study fails to identify any additional chronic issues these individuals had that may have affected the outcome of the study.

Were they also smokers?

Were they overweight?

Does cancer run in the family?

What other types of food were included in their diet?

There are additional problems with the study. The data was self-reported which always leaves room for the potential misstatement. One individual could be consuming far larger amounts of red meat than reported. If they are not weighing their food how can we place reliance on the accuracy of their results?

One may be consuming 8 ounces of meat per day while another may be consuming pounds upon pounds. Without any sort of examiner regulating the study there is no way to establish comparability.

Only Your Yoga Pants Are Cancer-Free

Yoga Pants

The Institute of Food Research reviewed 940 different agents and found that all but one (a chemical in yoga pants) poses some level of potential danger. The study even lists breathing air and sitting near a sun-filled window as Class 1 carcinogens.

Also, be careful with that glass of wine, which is also labeled as a Class 1 carcinogen.

Any data can be skewed, altered, or distorted to achieve a desired outcome. So this raises one potential question. If so many other various substances have been linked to cancer as well, why is red meat and processed meat catching so much of the heat?

No pun intended.

The answer is the media simply wants to use scare tactics to create mass hysteria similar to the anthrax scare, SARS, the west Nile virus, or Ebola. How many people actually died of these diseases? I don't know the count but I do know it's far less than other every day common death occurrences such as car accidents or even homicides.

The study fails to provide concrete evidence linking processed meat to cancer.

Statements such as "probably carcinogenic to humans" were included within the study. This suggests a lack of strong support for their cause. Placing processed meats in an arbitrary carcinogenic category alongside cigarettes makes no logical sense.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer defines Group 1 carcinogens as the following,

"Evidence of carcinogenicity in humans is less than sufficient but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals."

Therefore, to be placed in this category initially a substance may have only posed a threat to a hamster or mouse before subsequently being labeled a danger to humans. Without any sort of studies based on people, items should not be labeled as extreme threats to the human species.

Our ancestors have been consuming red meat for thousands and thousands of years with little to no repercussions. Cavemen would eat any type of meat that could successfully be captured, killed, and consumed.

The main difference between our ancestors and us is that they did not eat in excess. Mass amounts of food were not readily available at a whim. There were no drive thru's or pizza delivery services.

However, cancer rates have been increasing exponentially for the last 100 years. The reason behind this increase is not exclusively related to consumption of neither processed meat nor red meat. The study fails to recognize all the various extraneous factors such as consumption of other processed food along with a diet in a caloric surplus. Excess weight places unnecessary strain on the entire body's system including the joints, bones, and organs.

Diet, Health and Processed Meat

The key to any long-term sustainable diet is moderation. There are stories of people living to be 100 years old who were consumers of alcohol and chocolate on a daily basis.

Why is this case?

They practiced moderation such as a glass or wine or an ounce of chocolate daily. The saying too much of a good thing isn't good at all exists for a reason. Even mass amounts of Vitamin C have led to accidental deaths in isolated instances.

Eating some processed meat occasionally will not have a negative impact on your health. In the same token, eating a salad once per month will not provide any positive benefit to your well-being. A well-rounded diet that is high in whole foods is the key to sustainable long-term health.

The true health risks to be cognizant of are obesity and caloric surplus. Before considering the ramifications of any science-based study, be sure to understand the variables and the intentions of all parties involved. Only then can you come to a reasonable determination as to if the study provides some valid scientific conclusions.

I'll have another Bacon Double Cheeseburger please.

You can follow me on Instagram @ryanrodal and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel TigerFitnessSquad for more workout tips and nutritional advice.
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