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Global Network

Recommendations for Cancer Prevention

5. Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.

To reduce your cancer risk, eat no more than 18 oz. (cooked weight) per week of red meats, like beef, pork and lamb, and avoid processed meat such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and sausages.

Red meat refers to beef, pork and lamb–foods like hamburgers, steak, pork chops and roast lamb. The term processed meat refers to meats preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives. Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and sausages.

The evidence from the expert report that red meat is a cause of colorectal cancer is convincing. This evidence is much stronger now than it was in the mid-1990s. Red meat contains substances that are linked to colon cancer. For example, heme iron, the compound that gives red meat its color, has been shown to damage the lining of the colon.

Studies also show that people who eat a lot of red meat tend to eat less plant-based foods, so they benefit less from their cancer-protective properties.

There is also convincing evidence that choosing processed meat increases the chances of colorectal cancer. The expert panel advises limiting red meat and avoiding processed meat. Studies show we can eat up to 18 ounces a week of red meat without raising cancer risk. Research on processed meat shows cancer risk starts to increase with any portion.

When meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) can be formed. These substances can damage cells in the body, leading to the development of cancer.

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