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Processed meats in the grocery store.

Can meat really cause cancer?

Processed meats can cause cancer, and it’s highly possible that red meats can as well.  A report released last week by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that the risks of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers increased slightly when consuming a high-meat diet.

But how serious is this issue? And what does this mean for those meat-lovers among us who enjoy the taste of bacon, sausage or steak?  Here’s what you need to know. 

Why does eating processed meat and red meat cause cancer?

There is still speculation on how red and processed meats can cause cancer, but some evidence suggests that it may come from chemicals found in the meat. Carcinogenic chemicals may form when:

  • Meat is cooked at high temperatures, such as grilling or barbequing.
  • Nitrates are added to preserve processed meats.
  • The smoking process is used on processed meats. 

Take a look at this infographic to learn more about meat and your risk of cancer.  

Tips from a dietitian

Though hard-core meat eaters should consider cutting back, the risk of getting cancer from eating meat is relatively low. According to the Global Burden of Disease Project, about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are caused by a diet high in processed meat.

So if you are still craving bacon, Shayna Komar, a licensed and registered dietitian at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, offers the following tips:

  • Start slowly. You don’t have to change everything at once. Try to skip the meat every once in a while.
  • Eat in moderation. Cutting back on portion sizes can also reduce your risk.  
  • Try healthy protein substitutes. There are other great sources of protein you can try, which include fish, eggs, soups with beans, quinoa pasta and veggie wraps. 

For more health and wellness tips, click here

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