Processed Meat and Health Risks

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

A new ad campaign from the Cancer Project is calling for a ban on serving processed meats in schools nationwide. The campaign was prompted by a report issued last year by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund that found a direct link between eating processed meat and developing certain kinds of cancer.

Processed Meat and Cancer – Study showed eating process meat may increase stomach cancer risk

Researchers from Stockholm, Sweden investigated data collected from more than 4,700 patients from 15 studies published from 1966 through 2006. Processed meat consumption as well as stomach cancer incidences were analyzed. The researchers found that higher intake of processed meat was associated with a greater risk of stomach cancer. Indeed, stomach cancer risk increased by 15 to 38 percent if consumption of processed meats increased by just one ounce a day. The results of this study were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in August 2006.

Editor’s Note – Processed Meats are not Healthy, anyway.

Although previous studies have linked processed meats with other cancers such as pancreatic cancer and colorectal cancer, it is still too early to conclude that processed meats cause cancer. However, it is wise to stay away from them, anyway. Meats that are salted, cured, smoked or preserved with nitrate are considered processed meats. This includes bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs, salami, luncheon meat and other cured meats. They are usually high in fats and salt, which means they are not heart-friendly, either. A slice of regular ham, for instance, contains two times more fat and 25 times more salt than an equivalent portion of pork tenderloin.

The study concluded that eating a 50-gram serving of processed meat every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent. A 50-gram serving is approximately the same size as a hot dog, a product that many children eat on a daily basis! The Cancer Project is focusing its attention on trying to reform the federal Child Nutrition Act, as it is up for renewal in 2009. This program establishes the types of foods that are served in the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs.

Processed Meat and Food Borne Illness

However, cancer isn’t the only concern for those who eat processed meat. Recently a listeria outbreak in Canada has claimed the lives of eight individuals, with seven more deaths under investigation. Listeria, one form of food poisoning, can appear in processed meats that do not seem spoiled in any way. Pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and those with a weakened immune system are most susceptible to listeria.

What is Processed Meat?

Any meats that are salted, cured, smoked or preserved with nitrate are considered processed meats. They are usually high in fats and salt, which means they are not heart-friendly, either. All of the following are considered processed meats:

  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Ham
  • Hot dogs
  • Salami
  • Lunch meat
  • Other cured meats

The Bottom Line

Due to the increased risk of cancer and of contracting listeria, children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system should never eat processed meat. Even if you do not fall into one of these categories, you should avoid processed meats if you can. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommended in its 2007 report that you should avoid processed meats at all costs.

Try the following healthier ways to enjoy meat:

  • Choose a variety of poultry, fish or even beans as an alternative
  • Select leaner cut meats. When choosing beef: choose top round roast, eye of round, flank or top sirloin; when choosing pork, choose loin chops or tenderloin
  • Watch portion size. Remember that a deck of playing cards is roughly equiavalent to one serving size
  • Bake, broil or poach: Prepare meat that uses less oil
  • Marinade meat before grilling


cancer, processed meat


What type of ground sugar do you use in cooking most often?

A Healthy Diet for Breastfeeding Moms

Pediatric Diet Myths Debunked – Podcast

Leave a Comment