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Processed Meat

There Is No Safe Amount of Processed Meat

Processed meat—from hot dogs to bacon—increases the risk of colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even early death.

The World Health Organization has determined that processed meat is a major contributor to colorectal cancer, classifying it as “carcinogenic to humans.” Just one hot dog or a few strips of bacon consumed daily increases cancer risk by 18%. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AIRC) have also found that “the evidence on processed meat and cancer is clear-cut.”

“Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood. Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.”

– World Health Organization

Colorectal cancer isn’t the only cancer risk that comes from consuming processed meat. Eating 50 grams of processed meat daily also increases the risk of prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and overall cancer mortality. And a study of more than 200,000 women found that eating about 20 grams of processed meat each day—less than half the size of a regular hot dog—increased breast cancer risk by 21%.

Processed meat is also linked to cardiovascular disease and death, according to a study that found people eating more than 150 grams of processed meat per week increased their risk of heart disease and death by 46% and 51%, respectively, when compared to those who did not eat processed meat. A National Institutes of Health study of more than half a million people also found that those who consume the most processed meat have an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. A study published in JAMA found that processed meat consumption was tied to 57,766 deaths from cardiometabolic diseases in 2012.

Eating a hot dog takes away 36 minutes of healthy life (good-quality and disease-free life) according to a study that evaluated more than 5,800 foods and ranked them by their nutritional disease burden.

Grilled and Smoked Meat

Red meat consumption can increase the risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. Grilling and smoking meat make it more dangerous to human health. One registered dietitian explains, “The chemicals worth knowing when it comes to carcinogens in smoked foods are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs).” These form when meat cooks at high temperatures. Sugars and amino acids that comprise proteins in meat form HCAs upon reacting with heat.

PAHs form when fat and juice interact with the flame, stoking smoke, and then adhere to meat. Like smoking cigarettes, smoked meats expose people to PAHs, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Further Reading


The Cancer Survivor's Guide - Second Edition

Find out how foods fight cancer and the advantages of a high-fiber, low-fat, dairy- and meat-free diet. Includes updates from the latest research, special prostate and breast cancer sections, tips for making the dietary transition, and more than 130 recipes.

Break Up With Bacon

Hard-Hitting TV Ad Targets Cancer-Causing Bacon in 18 States Most Impacted by Colon Cancer Deaths 

Dr. Barnard: Processed Meats Cause Colorectal Cancer

Just one hot dog or a few strips of bacon consumed daily increases cancer risk by 18 percent. 

Wise Beyond Her Years

Processed meats cause colorectal cancer, and rates are rising among young people.