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Cancer and Processed Meat: What to Know About the Link

You know hot dogs aren’t a health food, but they might be worse than you thought.

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Everyone knows bacon and hot dogs aren’t exactly health foods, but recent research revealed just how *unhealthy* these foods are. In fact, processed meat may actually be carcinogenic—or capable of causing cancer.

In 2015, the World Health Organization officially classified processed meats as a carcinogen. The announcement came after a review of over 800 studies on the topic, which revealed that regular consumption of processed meats increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. There’s also some evidence that it slightly increases the risk of stomach cancer.

Processed meats are any type of meat that has been flavored, preserved, or processed. That includes smoking, fermenting, salting, and curing. Common processed meats in the United States are hot dogs, bacon, chorizo, sausage, and deli cold cuts. (Here are ways to make a healthy sandwich without cold cuts.)

Of course, you probably already know that you’re better off with a balanced diet including lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. However, the perils of processed meat go beyond just lacking in fiber or being high in saturated fat.

During the processing stage of these meats, certain chemicals are formed, according to the World Health Organization. In particular, processed meats contain the N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—both of which have been linked to increased cancer risk.  

Adjusting your diet to prevent colorectal cancer could be quite impactful. More than other cancers, colorectal cancer is closely linked to lifestyle factors, including diet. While some risk factors for cancer are out of your control, diet is one you can alter more easily.

This new information could be useful in lowering the incidence of colorectal cancer. Currently, this cancer of the colon or rectum is the third most common cancer that affects both sexes. Colorectal cancer affects 1 in 22 American men, and 1 in 24 U.S. women, according to the American Cancer Society.

Your best bet is to skip processed meats or save them for special occasions. Instead, opt for unprocessed and lean proteins; this can help you not only ward off cancer, but also help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Your future health will thank you for it.