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  • Writer's pictureBrian Dooreck MD

Processed Meats and a Higher Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

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Consumption of red and processed meat raises your chances of developing bowel (colorectal) cancer.

The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized processed meat as a carcinogen. Studies have linked processed meats to an increased risk of colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

What is Processed Meat?

Processed meat is preserved through drying, seasoning, smoking, or canning.

The following products are classified as processed meat:

  • Salami, sausages, and hot dogs

  • Corned beef, salted and cured meat

  • Ham, smoked bacon

  • Canned meat

  • Beef jerky

Colorectal cancer risk is positively associated with high consumption of red and processed meat.

How does processed meat affect my body?

The simplest to digest are sugary, processed junk foods. Now, “quick” and “easy” aren’t always good. In a handful of hours, your body absorbs processed foods, leaving

you to wanting more.

Processed meat

Meat that contains saturated fat can also elevate blood cholesterol levels. The saturated fat level depends on the type of meat you choose and how you cook it.

What do studies say?

According to an academic journal, "People who were consuming red and processed meat four or more times per week had a 20% increased risk of colorectal cancer compared with those who were consuming red and processed meat less than twice a week."

Colorectal Cancer

The colon (large intestine or bowel) and the rectum are the two body areas affected by colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon and/or the rectum. This common cancer is preventable with colonoscopy (screening) and a healthy diet.

In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third highest cause of cancer-related death.

In the United States, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined.

It's expected to cause about 52,980 deaths during 2021.

Short-term side effects

  • Nausea

  • Stomach cramps

  • Dehydration

  • Abdominal pain

  • Swelling

Long-term side effects

  • Inflammation

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Increased cholesterol

  • Weight gain

  • Risk of chronic diseases

Check out this video from Kurzgesagt "Is Meat Bad for You? Is Meat Unhealthy?"

Make healthier choices when purchasing meat.

When buying meat, choose the leanest option available. The more white is seen on meat, the more fat it contains. Back bacon, for instance, has less fat than streaky bacon.

These suggestions will assist you in choosing healthier options:

  • Check the nutrition label on pre-packaged meat to determine how much fat it contains

  • Choose meat without the skin to cut down on fat (or remove the skin)

  • Restrict processed meat items such as sausages, salami, and beef burgers since they are typically high in fat and salt

I still love meat; how much is safe to eat?

Dietary guidelines suggest consuming no more than 455 grams of cooked (600-700 grams raw weight) lean red meat per week to achieve iron and zinc demands. Nevertheless, remember that processed meat has more fat and calories than unprocessed meat.

The Department of Health and Social Care recommends cutting down to 70g of red or processed meat per day if you already consume more than 90g (cooked weight).

Bottom line

The Wall Street Journal article on school menus discussed providing children access to protein by going meatless on Mondays (#meatfreemondays). Perhaps recipes that use fresh fish and chicken are an efficient start to eating nutritious meals.


I eat a high-fiber, mostly plant-based 🌱 diet, no red meat, drink 4 liters of water a day, exercise, and am focused on keeping nutrition simple. I am sharing what works for me and what I routinely recommend to my patients.

"Balance. Portion control. Keep nutrition simple. Eat Smart. Eat Healthy. 🌱 🌾 🌿"

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Connect with Dr. Dooreck on LinkedIn, where he focuses his sharing on Health, Diet, Nutrition, Exercise, Lifestyle, and Balance.


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