The World Health Organization (WHO) is now classifying processed meats like bacon and sausage as a Group 1 Carcinogenic.
That news is not a good one for lovers of red meat. The WHO is essentially giving their most forward warning that eating processed meats increases your chance of getting bowel cancer at a statistically significant rate. Also classified as Group 1 carcinogens are alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes.
"Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer," its new report says.
It also classifies red meat as a Class 2A carcinogenic, indicating that it is "probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence."
Still, that shouldn't be misinterpreted to mean that eating processed meat is as bad for you as smoking, as The Telegraph reported. BuzzFeed's Tom Chivers explains that the risk you inherit from smoking has a much greater affect on whether you get cancer than the risk you may inherit from eating red meat.
"According to Cancer Research UK, 64 people out of every 100,000 can expect to develop colorectal cancer per year. Taken crudely, the IARC's report suggests that eating 50g of bacon every day would raise your risk from 64 in 100,000 to 72 in 100,000, or from 0.064% to 0.072%. Over a lifetime, your risk is about 5%, according to the NHS; eating 50g of processed meat a day will raise that to about 6%.For comparison, research on smoking and cancer found that men who smoked 25 cigarettes a day were 24 times higher risk of developing lung cancer, or a 2,400% increase."
Essentially, WHO's message is that people need to focus more on limiting their consumption of meat, not necesarrily cut it out of their diet completely. According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, people can reduce their risk by eating no more than 500 grams cooked weight (or 1.1 pounds) of red meat per week.
"For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed," Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme, said. "In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance."
If you want to find healthy protein substitutes for red meat, check out this report from Harvard University.