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Do Bacon, Hot Dogs and Red Meat Cause Cancer? Facts and What You Need to Know!

The American Institute for Cancer Research has had this information in their Expert Reports for years. The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) report may be new, but the evidence showing a link between red meats, processed meats, and colorectal cancer is not news. Of course, it’s my job to know this, so I guess I can understand if it’s new to someone else.

What I am finding through conversations is that consumers are reading the headlines, and reacting in one of two ways.

  1. I’m never eating meat again.
  2. I don’t care how bad it is, bacon makes me happy so I’m going to eat it anyway.

Guess what friends? There’s a middle ground. It’s based on facts and sprinkled with a little common sense!!

What You Need to Know

First, it’s important to know the definitions.

  • Processed meat has been cured, salted, smoked, or otherwise preserved in some way. Included in this group are things like cold cut sandwich meats, bacon, sausages, hot dogs, ham, salami, and pepperoni. Essentially it means it has been processed by adding something to it. Grinding or mincing doesn’t make it a ‘processed meat.’
  • Red meat is beef, lamb and pork. No…. pork is not the other “white meat.” That is what we call a marketing campaign. Guess what? Marketing often means lies. Let that be a life lesson.

Next, understand the risk.

  • Processed meat was ranked by the IARC as a class 1 carcinogen. Tobacco is also ranked as a class 1 carcinogen. So is alcoholic drinks, outdoor air pollution and UV radiation, but I don’t see people giving up their wine or moving to the countryside!
  • Red meat was ranked by the IARC as a class 2A carcinogen.

Being ranked is only part of the story. The other part is how much you are exposed to the carcinogen. Most smokers expose their body to tobacco multiple times a day. When it comes to processed meat, how often you have it matters.

How much is too much?

This particular study found that those who ate the most processed meat had around a 17 per cent higher risk of developing bowel cancer, compared to those who ate the least. So the recommendation is to consume 70g or less of red/processed meat. Check out this infographic on how much meat is in a typical meal:

The general guideline many health agencies use is the following:

  • 18 ounces a week or less of red meat. If you eat red meat once a week or less, you will not exceed this.
  • Aoid processed meat. Even with the recommendation to “avoid,” I usually tell my clients that consuming something 3 times a year isn’t going to add up.
  • See more specifics on this recommendation from the AICR.

But PLEASE don’t give your kids hot dogs every day. And having a sandwich every day made with ham is not a habit I would recommend!

Dose Matters!

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October 26, 2015 By Julie Lanford MPH, RD, CSO, LDN

Recipe: Roasted Sweet Potato and Chicken Salad

Author: Malena Douthit

Salad Ingredients

  • 5 oz. mixed greens
  • 1 sweet potato, diced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ thinly sliced red onion
  • Baked chicken thighs, cut into slices
  • 1 c dried cranberries
  • 1 c pecans

Ginger Vinaigrette Ingredients

  • 1 TB fresh grated ginger
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. In a bowl, toss diced sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper and transfer to a baking sheet. Roast sweet potatoes in oven for 30-45 minutes until potatoes are crisp and tender.
  3. Add mixed greens, sweet potatoes, and all other salad ingredients into a large bowl.
  4. Add all ginger vinaigrette ingredients to a mason jar, seal lid, and shake to combine.
  5. Toss salad with vinaigrette to suit your taste.


Anti-Cancer Recipes