Cancer Link to Processed Meats

Ham, salami and Devon may seem like harmless lunchtime fillers, but The World Cancer Research Fund is calling on parents to reduce or eliminate the consumption of processed meats, because of the research saying that over the long term this could raise the risk of bowel cancer. The Cancer charity recommends that parents don't give their children more than 70 grams of processed meat a week.

‘Processed’ means meats that have been changed in any way from their fresh version and number far more than just ham and Devon. They include bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, ham, liver pate, Devon, smoked meats including chicken and turkey and even corned beef.

Hardly welcome news, but the link between chemicals and additives in processed meats and cancer has been made by multiple studies over many years. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have analysed the results of 15 studies published over the last 40 years from Europe, North and South America and found that people with stomach cancer were more likely to have processed meats in their diet. Just 30 grams of processed meats a day, about a standard half serve, raised the chances of developing stomach cancer (bowel cancer was the concern in the most recent warning from the World Cancer Research Fund) The risk was the highest for bacon.

Our  local butcher assures me that the amounts of chemicals used in processed meats are much lower now, than they once were.

How do processed meats cause cancer? They contain nitrates, nitrites, sulphites and sulphides that are used as preservatives. In addition, chemicals like nitrosamines are formed in the manufacturing process. Manufacturers may add only small amounts of preservatives and additives under strict conditions that are deemed safe, but even these tiny amounts can be enough to increase the risk of cancer. The only regulation for public safety is that preservatives and additives have to be labeled on meat products. It's up to the individual whether they eat processed meats or not.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), closely regulate the levels of additives in foods, guided by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. FSANZ and the Cancer Council recommend that people limit their intake of meat - processed or not. Even unprocessed red meat has been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer though but not nearly as much as processed meats.

“I’ve eaten this stuff for years and it’s never done me any harm” is a common response. Consider though, why these studies have been undertaken in the first place. Out of concern for public health, this research is done and it is our tax dollars go into this type of research. It is extremely difficult to establish such links in research, and this link just keeps on appearing. Most cancer councils and nutrition foundations recommend diets to contain minimal or no processed meat at all.

There is a way around this though: once, smoked and cured meats did not contain chemicals. Due to the concern about the chemical content of meats, there are a growing number of producers who make bacon, pastrami, sausages etc, without these chemicals and are available at organic food suppliers. Meat-eaters mourning the loss of processed meats, might consider this option.

Should we cut out processed meats altogether? Two ham sandwiches a week, of about 35 grams and no other processed meat is the recommended intake. We recommend our clients to eliminate all processed meats, or take the organic option. It’s a good idea to reduce your intake to one form of processed meat per week, and increase the amount of fruit and vegetables. There are plenty of organic, chemical free sausages available, and they taste great. If you like corned beef, it’s extremely easy to make your own delicious version. You can get recipes off the Internet, or contact the clinic.

While this is not welcome news, neither is a diagnosis of cancer. Supporting the suppliers of chemical free processed meats is a way to make your wishes known. The amount of organic produce in supermarkets is escalating at a pace. Hopefully, before long, naturally cured bacon will be available there too.

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