The World Health Organisation reviewed hundreds of studies and has made International headlines this week by releasing findings that classify processed meat consumption as carcinogenic to humans ( Group 1). The association between processed meats and colorectal cancers has been known for at least thirty years, but the new classification has changed to make the link definite. The category is the same as for tobacco, formaldehyde and plutonium, all of which have evidence to definitely make the link between the substance and cancer.

Eating a rasher of bacon is not being equated to smoking a cigarette, the dose required to cause cancer is thought to be near daily consumption of processed meat over a considerable time, not the occasional addition to a varied diet. The change in category is based on evidence from human studies finding that eating processed meats causes bowel cancer.

The consumption of red meat has been classified as probably carcinogenic to humans ( Category 2A), with an association to pancreatic and prostate cancer.

The Cancer Council figures show that an estimated 11,500 cancer cases per year are caused by tobacco, 3,900 cancer cases attributed to obesity and overweight and 3,200 cases attributed to alcohol to put some perspective on diet and cancer links

This year the OECD released figures showing that Australians lead the world in our consumption of meat. We eat 90.2 kilograms of meat per person per year. This is considerably higher than recommended by any health guideline. All health authorities and studies of healthy lifestyles and dietary guidelines have for many years had the main message of reducing red meat intake and processed meats as an occasional treat. The Mediterranean diet remains recommended as the eating pattern for prolonged life, reduced risk of cancer, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It recommends eating small amounts of red meat once or twice per week ( not burnt), including poultry and fish, protein from legumes and vegetables, low intake of fruit, low glycaemic index carbohydrates  such as sourdough, cooking with olive oil, eating slowly and including processed meats occasionally.

<- Back to: News