Do Red Meat and Processed Meat Cause Cancer

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Recently, numerous news stories have appeared in the headlines as to whether or not red meat and processed meat cause cancer. The source of the news is the World Health Organization (WHO). A report published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the WHO on October 26, 2015, focused on the association between red meat and processed meat and cancer. A study group formed by 22 experts from 10 countries reviewed the results of 800 scientific research and explained that red meat may have a "possible carcinogenic" effect on people based on "limited evidence." The opinion included mainly colorectal cancers (cancers of the colon) and possibly pancreas and prostate cancers. It was decided that based on the "adequate evidence" processed meat caused colorectal cancer in people. So what does the report actually say?

Here is the association between cancer and meat with questions:

What is red meat?
Red meat includes beef, veal, lamb, mutton, and goat.

What is processed meat?
It is the salted, fermented, cured meat or state of meat with additives to enhance its taste or texture. Salami, sausage, and sujuk are in this group.

Do different cooking techniques reduce the risk?
Direct exposure to flame, cooking at very high temperatures, grilling on a barbecue and consuming mildly burned meat may cause carcinogenic substances to form in the content of the meat. Therefore, the safest method to cook meat is to boil it, cook it on low heat, or sauté it without burning it. In the report, no link between cooking methods and cancer could be established and no conclusion has been reached.

According to the report, which meat is safer to consume?
The report states that there is insufficient information to be able to say which special meat or processed meat might have more or less cancer risk.

What is the prevalence of colorectal cancer in Turkey?
According to the Turkey Cancer Statistics Report (2015) published by the Ministry of Health, the incidence of cancer (new number of cancer patients) in Turkey is lower than that of women and men in the European Union and the United States. Lung cancer is the most common cancer observed in men, and in women it is breast cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women.

Should meat or processed meat no longer be included in our diet?
Red meat is a good-quality source of protein. It consists of nutrients enabling growth and development, the renewal of cells, and blood formation, as well as resistance to diseases. It is rich in iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. In the body, the utilization of iron, which is found in meat and meat products, is high. According to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), it is recommended to eat 500g of cooked meat (equal to 700g of raw meat) as part of a balanced and nutritious diet. In the Dietary Guidelines (2015) for Turkey, it is emphasized that processed meat such as sausage, salami, sujuk and ham should be consumed with foods with vitamin C and E. These vitamins play a major role in protecting health with their anti-carcinogenic effects.

Turkey Cancer Statistics Report, Ministry of Health, Ankara 2015.
Dietary Guideline for Turkey, Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Hacettepe University, 2015.

Sabri Ülker Foundation