HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsRed meat, processed meat vs colon cancer

Red meat, processed meat vs colon cancer



By Michelle Madzudzo

THE COVID-19 pandemic is the focus of the country and an all-consuming thought to the healthcare system, but let us also bear in mind that being in a pandemic does not keep cancer at bay. As we continue to fight COVID-19, let us also raise awareness about colon cancer.

Have you ever heard about the claim that eating processed  meat increases your risk of colon  cancer? Could it be true?

Meat lovers out there beware, it’s possible that processed meat and red meat can cause colon cancer.

The cancer arm of the World Health Organisation has some serious concerns about some of our  favourite foods.

The International Agency for Research on cancer classifies processed meat as a carcinogen, something that causes cancer.

It classifies red meat as a probable carcinogen, something that can cause cancer.

This link between certain types of meat and some forms of cancer, particularly colon cancer, is not new.

Scientific evidence has been accumulating for decades that colon cancer is more common among people who mostly eat red meat and processed meat than those who eat vegan diets or white meat more often.

Processed meat includes hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meat.

It refers to meat that has been treated in some way to preserve or flavour it. Processes include salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking.

Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, and goat, of course red meat has many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients the body needs. It can be a source of protein, B vitamins, iron, zinc, but the caveat lies in what type of red meat you are eating, how much of the red meat you are consuming and how often are you eating it. Generally speaking, choosing white meat or vegetarian options are your best bets for living an overall healthier colon.

Twenty-two experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions.

They found that eating 50 grammes of processed meat everyday increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

That is the equivalent of about four strips of bacon or one hot dog.

For red meat, there was evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

Overall, the lifetime risk of someone developing colon cancer is 5%.

To put the numbers into perspective, the increased risk from eating the amount of processed meat in the study would raise average lifetime risk to almost 6%.

Data has also shown that time and time again red meat is linked with high cholesterol and in turn increases risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, consumption of more meat is also associated with increased rates of obesity which is a serious health hazard.

Colon cancer is not 100% preventable, however, managing certain controllable risk factors such as your diet particularly can greatly lower one’s chances of developing it.

Health experts have long recommended a diet that limits processed and red meat, and that is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

These contain high amounts of fibre and have been linked to decreased risk of colon cancer.

Researchers believe that it’s may be because fibre tends to add bulk to your digestive system, shortening the amount of time that wastes travel through the colon.

Since this waste often contains carcinogens, a high amount of fibre decreases the opportunity for carcinogens to affect intestinal cells.

As a health professional I would recommend choosing white meat especially fish, poultry, rabbits or beans instead of red and processed meat.

Generally, cancer rates would decline by up to 20% if everyone consumed five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, they contain cancer fighting substances such as antioxidants, dietary fibre, carotenoids, and flavenoids.

You are also advised to limit excessive intake of sugar and salt to keep your colon healthy.

My personal advice is that avoiding tobacco, staying at a healthy weight, regular physical activity, and limiting alcohol intake can also help people lower their risk of contracting many types of cancer.

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