What Does the Report on Meat and Cancer Mean for Me?

While the headlines focus on Meat = Cancer, the full report offers much more clarity and detail around the organization’s findings. Here are some of the key points.

Healthy Food

Q: What does the report on meat and cancer mean for me?

A: The recently released World Health Organization Report linking processed meats to cancer has been making big news.  In fact, if you’ve been reading the headlines about the report, you may have some second thoughts about eating that sirloin sitting in your fridge for dinner tonight.

While the headlines focus on Meat = Cancer, the full report offers much more clarity and detail around the organization’s findings.  Here are some of the key points:

  • The committee that issued the new report, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, reviewed 800 studies on cancer in humans, looking at both environmental and lifestyle factors that may contribute to the disease.
  • The panel defined processed meat as that which is “transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.”
  • The report placed processed meat into its Group 1 category, meaning that “sufficient evidence” was found that it could cause cancer (though not on the same level as cigarettes and other more publicized substances in the Group 1 category).
  • Regarding red meat in general (beef, veal, pork, lamb, etc.), the panel found it was “probably” carcinogenic based on “limited evidence.”  The association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, while that diets high in red meat were also linked to pancreatic and prostate cancer.

The most important takeaway from the World Health Organization’s recent report is the importance of moderation.  In fact, Dr. John Ioannidis, the chairman of disease prevention at Stanford University, told the New York Times, “I think it’s very important that we don’t terrorize people into thinking that they should not eat any red meat at all.”  A balanced approach to eating that relies heavily on healthful and nutritious foods has been proven to be a sustainable and healthful strategy.  This means:

Eating nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables at every meal.  MyPlate recommends making them half of your plate.

  • Including a variety of whole grains in your diet to replace refined products most of the time.
  • Sticking to lean proteins such as poultry, seafood and certain cuts of beef (sirloin, round, loin).
  • The occasional indulgence, whether it’s a slice of chocolate silk pie or a meaty steak.