Bad news for meat lovers: no amount of bacon or sausage is safe, cancer report concludes

Even small amounts of processed meat can dramatically raise your cancer risk, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) writes. The WCRF update their guidelines every decade, and in this one, they outline three main culprits: tobacco, red processed meat, and alcohol.

The WCRF report focuses on identifying the causes of cancer and what can be done to eliminate them. Almost half of all cancer cases are preventable, they write, and the most straightforward way to tackle them is through a healthy diet. But what does that mean?

No smoking

The first thing you should do is give up smoking (if you do smoke). While this is not strictly a part of a healthy diet, smoking has long been proven to cause a wide variety of cancers, as well as increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases and other serious health issues.

We have also written extensively on the matter. Don’t pick up smoking — health-wise, it’s one of the best things you can do. If you do smoke, try and give it up, and giving it up means giving it up. Studies have shown that while quitting has almost immediate health benefits, cutting back on smoking isn’t nearly as good. Even a single cigarette a day can have devastating consequences.

Avoid alcohol

Decades ago, the school of thought was that you could enjoy alcohol in low to moderate quantities without subjecting yourself to a health risk. Recent research seems to suggest that even in low quantities, booze can greatly increase your risk of cancer. Yes, even casual drinking is bad for you.

The matter is still not settled, but alcohol does seem to drastically raise the risk of cancer. Alcohol is also the leading cause of dementia, according to a 2018 study. Instead, the WCRF suggests sticking to water or unsweetened drinks. Sugary drinks are also a significant health risk.

Red meat

The infamous trio wouldn’t be complete without red meat. As other studies before it, the WCRF report further emphasizes that red meat is also associated with an important rise in cancer risk, especially processed red meat. Let me spell that out a different way: bacon and sausages are bad for you. No amount of processed red meat is safe if you want to minimize your risk of cancer.

If you just can’t give up that red meat, then you must limit consumption to three portions per week, equivalent to about 300-500 grams (12-18 ounces), the WCRF says.

The report also highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, as obesity is also a primary risk for cancer.

The findings don’t necessarily offer a new perspective — they just reiterate what mountains of research are already saying: if you want to avoid cancer, you need to eat more things that are good for you, less of the things that are bad for you, and be at least somewhat physically fit. However, in the modern world, that seems to be increasingly difficult.

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About Mihai Andrei

Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.

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