The controversial report by the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the connection between red meat and cancer still lingers in the minds of many individuals. Processed meat such as hot dogs, beef jerky, and bologna were notably linked to cancer, raising significant concerns among consumers. While media reports have been rife with sweeping conclusions regarding the consumption of red meat, it is important to analyze the issue objectively and rely on scientifically-backed facts.
The WHO report was based on an observational study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer on the possible agents that can cause cancer. However, observational studies are some of the least effective in finding results in scientific research. In addition, the information used to connect red meat with cancer was gathered through food questionnaires. The IARC aimed to link 900 agents to causing cancer, and out of that number, only one was not associated with cancer. Coffee and wine were also included on the list of agents that “may” or “possibly” cause cancer.
It is worth noting that these studies are not directly associating a particular item like a specific hot dog with cancer. They are simply associating the presence of one or more compounds that “could” cause cancer. Thus, correlation and causation should not be confused or equated.
Several examples demonstrate how correlation or association can lead to skewed results. One example is the association of ice cream with murder rates. Studies suggest that when ice cream sales are higher in warmer months, violent crimes like murder tend to occur more often. This correlation does not imply causation. Similarly, processed meats should not be likened to cigarettes and asbestos. Although they may fall under the same category, they have vastly different percentages of danger.
According to experts, the relative risk of colorectal cancer due to the consumption of processed meat is reportedly 18% if consuming two slices of bacon per day. However, this risk is significantly lower when compared to the prevalence of colorectal cancer. Moreover, other lifestyle factors such as smoking, lack of physical activity, high body mass index, sugar overconsumption, and alcohol intake are ignored by many studies implicating only processed meat as the main culprit.
Another misleading conclusion is the association of fresh unprocessed meat with processed meat when, in fact, they are vastly different. Recent research and findings over the past three decades indicate that fresh meat has very little connection to cancer. In particular, the association between colorectal cancer and red meat is weak, almost statistically insignificant. Despite this, reports continue to claim that red meat causes cancer.
It must be emphasized that men do not need red meat to stay healthy. However, if they consume it, they need not succumb to media-induced hype based on the WHO report. Although it is best for individuals to avoid products like beef jerky and hot dogs, grass-fed, hormone-free, and organic beef is not problematic. Additionally, cooking methods that may result in the formation of carcinogens must also be taken into account.
As with every nutritional issue, it is necessary to consider the whole picture and seek reliable information. The cleanest sources of food must be sought, including hormone-free and organic products, and individuals should educate themselves thoroughly. In summary, relying on science-backed facts rather than media hype is the key to understanding the relationship between red meat and cancer.