Spam isn’t a health food!
According to a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) there is strong evidence to indicated a link between the consumption of processed meats and a cancer causing effect. The reports says that the daily consumption of 50g of processed meat increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Also mentioned in the report were non-processed red meats, which it said were “probably carcinogenic” but there was limited evidence to support this.
The conclusions of the WHO report, which were reached on advice from its International Agency for Research and Cancer, now places processed meat into the same category as cigarettes, alcohol, asbestos and plutonium.
Is processed meat really as dangerous as smoking?
Many have groups have spoken out to say that this classification is misleading and that it only indicates the strength of the evidence but not actually the size of the risk.
Emeritus Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Cardiff and a member of the Meat Advisory Panel, Professor Robert Pickard notes:
“Red and processed meat do not give you cancer and actually the IARC report is not saying that eating processed meat is as harmful as smoking. In fact comparing red meat to smoking is ridiculous.
Looking at the report itself I am very surprised by IARC’s strong conclusion on categorising processed red meat as definitely and red meat as being probably carcinogenic to humans given the lack of consensus within the scientific community and the very weak evidence regarding the causal relationship between red meat and cancer. There are many substances classed as carcinogenic such as air pollution, contraceptive pills and working as a painter. Interestingly IARC has even noted coffee, working as a hair dresser and shift working in the same category as red meat.
The IARC ruling states that by eating 50g of processed red meat every day leads to a very small increase in the risk of bowel cancer. In the UK we are only eating 17g on average of processed meat a day. So we would have to eat three times the amount of processed meat to increase the risk.
Avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer. The top priorities for cancer prevention remain smoking cessation, maintenance of normal body weight and avoidance of high alcohol intakes. Red meat has a valuable role within a healthy, balanced diet thanks to its high protein content and rich nutritional composition.”
Processed meat is bad for us? You don’t say!
For those of us who have the slightest interest in their health, the notion that processed meat is bad for us will come as no surprise whatsoever. Furthermore, those who understand food and nutrition will be more likely to differentiate between red meat and processed meat.
The danger of the WHO report is that it has resulted in shock headlines that fail to communicate what the information really means. It risks demonising the consumption of all meat which is a great source of nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, creatine and vitamin B12.
The problem with many studies into red meat is that they often fail to take into consideration a range of factors such as how the meat was produced (e.g factory farmed or organic), the fat content and the method by which it was cooked, which could all have an effect. There is a big different between Spam fritters every night and the occasional slow cooked organic beef stew.
There is also question of “what next”? If processed meat shares the same classification as such harmful carcinogens as cigarettes does that not mean it should be labeled in the same way with a warning or even images of the potential adverse health effects?
However if there is one good thing to come out of this report, it is to further highlight the negative health implications surrounding the use of additives in food. With supermarkets continuing to compete with marketing focused purely on price and taste, it’s high time that the negative were put in the spot light.