“There are very few foods we should make all of our diet. At the same time, there are very few foods we have to completely avoid to stay healthy.”
The WHO findings were drafted by a panel of 22 international experts who reviewed decades of research on the link between red meat, processed meats and cancer.
The panel reviewed animal experiments, studies of human diet and health, and cell processes that could explain how red meat might cause cancer.
An analysis of 10 of the studies suggested that a 50-gram portion of processed meat daily – or about 1.75 ounces – increases the risk of colorectal cancer over a lifetime by about 18 percent.
Hardman said a 50-gram portion is about one hot dog. She said if someone ate several hot dogs a day, every day, she would worry. Or if a diet involved bacon for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch and bologna for dinner.
But it’s all about lifestyle choices.
“Do you have normal body weight? Get regular exercise?” Hardman said. “Those are two things that really increase your risk. An overweight person who gets little exercise, one hot dog a month might do it. But they are already at risk. You really can’t tell.”
Hardman said what really struck her about the study was that is wasn’t new news. In 2007, the American Institute for Cancer Research found red meat and processed meats lead to colorectal cancer and called for limiting it in diets.
There has also been a push recently to reduce red meat in Americans’ diet, with many school districts implementing “meatless Monday,” an initiative that has support from First Lady Michelle Obama.
“We’ve known this for a long time,” Hardman said. “It’s not good for you to eat these things.”
She said another mark against processed meats is that they are high in calories.
“Reducing processed meats would not only reduce the bad things, but also reduce calorie consumption and help to maintain a healthy weight, which has got to be good,” she said.
According to the American Cancer Society, one third of cancer deaths can be attributed to poor diet and physical inactivity. It encourages people to eat more vegetables and fish and less red and processed meats.
Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer in the U.S. is about 1 in 20, or 5 percent, according to the cancer society. By the WHO’s calculations, having a cold-cut sandwich every day would only raise that to around 6 percent.
The WHO researchers defined processed meat as anything transformed to improve its flavor or preserve it, including sausages, beef jerky and anything smoked. They defined red meat to include beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.
The report said grilling, pan-frying or other high-temperature methods of cooking red meat produce the highest amounts of chemicals suspected of causing cancer.