Penn Medicine News Blog

November 30, 2015 // By Olivia Fermano // Comments

Processed and Red Meat – Are They Really that Bad?

Cancer // Gastrointestinal // Nutrition // Pennsylvania Hospital // Public Health


Four days gone now and Thanksgiving officially kicked off the holiday season. For revelers of all backgrounds, this time of year has the potential to be one long party-fest from now through New Year’s. With this party atmosphere comes lots of bad food. Despite the season the Eagles are having, you can still bet there will be avid tailgaters grilling in the parking lot of Lincoln Financial Field before the remaining home games. And let’s not forget all the party platters full of cold cuts.

Most of us are quite aware that certain foods associated with celebratory events – hot dogs, pepperoni pizzas, “pigs in a blanket” – aren’t the heart-healthiest things to scarf down, especially in excess. At the holidays, that means preparing for the prospect of carrying a few extra pounds into the New Year. But most of us weren’t worrying about our favorite party foods causing cancer. Until now.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) gathered an international panel of experts to respond to its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report on the dangers of the consumption of processed meats – those altered through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking and other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation – and other red meats. The report classified processed meat as “human carcinogens,” IACR Group 1 – which places them in the same category as alcohol, asbestos and tobacco. The IARC also classified red meat – veal, beef, lamb, goat, pork, mutton, venison – as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

For four days after the report was released and until the WHO finally published an online Q & A to talk folks down off a dietary ledge, the media terrorized salami-loving consumers across the globe with scary headlines like, "Processed meats pose same cancer risk as smoking and asbestos,” and “Processed meat ranks alongside smoking as major cause of cancer,”

“While I’m sure the strong headlines grab more readers, such media sensationalism is very misleading,” said Frederick A. Nunes, MD, section chief of the division of Gastroenterology at Pennsylvania Hospital (PAH), and a clinical professor of Medicine in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. “For decades now, we’ve known there was a link between some types of meats and some cancers, especially colorectal cancer. So this news isn’t exactly new. What is new is the growing evidence of the link, backed by good research.”

Read more ...

Subscribe to Penn Medicine News Blog by Email




About This Blog