Meat smokers cause cancer

Cancer risk: Smoking can kill, eating sausage too?

Sausages, ham and other processed meat are carcinogenic according to the International Cancer Research Agency IARC. Regular consumption especially increases the risk of colon cancer, said the World Health Organization in Lyon.

She has now classified processed meat in group 1 of carcinogenic substances. This group includes substances for which there is sufficient evidence that they can cause tumors. Such an assessment is based on studies on people who are exposed to the carcinogenic substances and in some cases also on animal studies. Group 1 also includes tobacco, asbestos and X-rays.

However, this does not mean that the consumption of sausage products is just as dangerous as active or passive smoking. How high the individual risk of developing a tumor is related to how much someone is exposed to a carcinogenic substance. Not every smoker inevitably develops lung cancer in their lifetime, but their risk of developing this type of tumor is dramatic compared to a non-smoker.

The same applies to the consumption of sausage products. This includes all products that contain different types of meat from pork, beef or poultry. Processed also means that the meat can be salted, cured, smoked or fermented in order to make it either tastier or more durable. However: "The risk of developing colon cancer remains small for the individual if he or she consumes processed meat," the IARC quotes Kurt Straif, who heads the evaluation of substances at the cancer research agency. "But the risk increases with the amount of meat consumed."

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So if you eat a lot of ham, mortadella, salami and the like, it is more likely that cells in your intestines will start to proliferate malignantly. Above all, the researchers discovered evidence of an increased risk of colon cancer, but also evidence that sausage consumers are more likely to develop pancreatic and prostate tumors.

Red meat, on the other hand, for example an unprocessed beef steak, is now classified as "probably carcinogenic" according to the assessment. It falls into group 2A. This is where substances are sorted that have caused cancer in animal experiments, but there is only limited evidence that they are dangerous for humans. Red meat includes the muscle meat of all mammals, including beef, pork, lamb, veal, sheep, horse and goat.

Nobody can say how much meat is still okay

What does that mean? Eating meat does not automatically mean getting cancer. The international working group that evaluated meat and sausage products is based on more than 800 studies from the past two decades (Straif et al., 2015). In it, researchers examined the link between cancer and meat in different countries and among populations with different dietary habits.

Analysis of a small fraction of the studies (ten research papers) found that consuming 50 grams of processed meat per day increased the risk of developing colon cancer by 18 percent. The evidence is less strong for red meat, where consuming 100 grams a day could increase the risk of colon cancer by 17 percent. What exactly was examined can be read here.

What does that mean for your own diet? The IARC only assesses whether substances can cause cancer or not. It does not give any recommendations as to the amount above which it could be dangerous to eat meat and sausage. Individual countries and the World Health Organization are responsible for this. Whether there is such a thing as an upper consumption limit is questionable, could not be investigated and is presumably to be assessed differently for each individual.

For years, however, nutrition experts and scientists have been recommending eating little meat and meat products anyway. For example, the German Nutrition Society recommends a balanced diet and no more than 300 to 500 grams of meat and sausage per week. In fact, Germans probably eat significantly more meat. This is also evident from the last major survey, the National Consumption Study II. Although the data are almost ten years old, they give an impression: Among other things, it was shown that Germans consume too few plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruit and too much animal-based foods. It was divided among the sexes as follows: men ate an average of 156 grams per day, almost twice as much meat, sausage products and meat products as women ate 84 grams per day.

To demonize meat in principle is also wrong. A moderate consumption also has a health-promoting effect: Meat sometimes contains important minerals and vitamins. White meat, i.e. poultry, is considered safer than red meat. As a rule, one should also prefer low-fat products.