Does Eating Red Meat Really Cause Cancer?


A recent report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), determined that red meat and processed meat consumption correlated with increased risks of cancer.

Now, we as human beings have been hunting and eating meat since our early evolution – using fire to cook meat may have been the reason primitive cavemen became intelligent human beings afterall.

Vegans and vegetarians may have their own reasons for avoiding meat, but it’s an enjoyable staple for many of us – in moderation. An excess of red meat isn’t healthy; it’s been linked to increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

But who doesn’t love a juicy burger or a perfectly cooked steak every once in awhile?

After today, every-once-in-a-while may be close to every never. Cancer is a game changer, right?

Before we get into the review that may send us running for the vegetarian hills, let’s get some basics out of the way.

The report we’ll be talking about today makes a distinction between processed and unprocessed meat, and one of them is much worse for your health.

Processed Vs. Unprocessed Meat

There’s a big difference between unprocessed meat and processed meat, and they carry equally different health risks.

Processed Meat


Processed meat broadly refers to any variety of meat that one way or another exists past its normal shelf life, having had its taste and texture altered through the use of added chemical flavorings and preservatives.

Processed meats include products such as:

  • Deli meats
  • Hot dogs
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Pepperoni
  • Corned beef
  • Canned meat
  • Jerky

By definition, chicken and turkey products – such as chicken sausages and turkey bacon – also fall into this category, even though they’re technically white meat and not red.

All of these meat products are considered “convenience meats” because it’s pretty much OK for consumers to enjoy these foods right out of the package with minimal cooking required.

Preserving these meats so they’re shelf-stable and consumer-ready used to mean long processes of smoking and salting. However, now they’re altered with added chemicals, flavorings, and preservatives to keep them fresher longer.

It’s these curing processes that may be carcinogenic in and of themselves.