Carcinogenic meat? Here's what WHO says. How to behave with children


New classifications from the International Agency for Research on Cancer: processed meat ends up among carcinogens, fresh red meat among probable carcinogens. "But if the diet is varied, an occasional consumption of red meat is certainly not a problem for children", says pediatrician Sergio Conti Nibali, of the Paediatricians Cultural Association.

Frankfurters, sausages, ham, canned meat: for IARC, the agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) dedicated to cancer research, there is no doubt, they are carcinogenic substances, that is, capable of causing cancer and in particularly that of the colorectal. Attention is also focused on fresh red meat, classified as probable carcinogens.

These are the conclusions of a study published in one of the most important medical journals in the world, Lancet Oncology: an overall review of more than 800 studies already conducted on the subject. Summing up all the available data, IARC has done nothing but confirm an idea that has been around for some time: red meats and in particular processed ones can be dangerous for our health because they increase the risk of getting sick not only from diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but also from cancer.

But beware, this does not mean that sausages and steaks should be banned forever from our tables. "Carcinogenic" means that it can cause cancer, not that a few plates of meat are enough to get sick.

"It is true that some foods can be unhealthy, but if the diet is as varied as possible there are no problems, neither for adults nor for children" says Sergio Conti Nibali, head of the working group on nutrition of Cultural association of pediatricians. In particular, Conti Nibali emphasizes the importance of a truly omnivorous diet. "Most of the calories consumed during the day should come from plant-based foods: one serving per day of animal-based proteins - derived from foods such as dairy products, fish, white meats and red meats - is more than enough."

In any case, according to the IARC document, the risk of developing cancer associated with the consumption of these foods is much lower than the risk of getting sick if, for example, you smoke.

So let's see what exactly the study concluded and how we should regulate ourselves with red and processed meats, with the help of an information document developed by IARC itself and the commentary by Sergio Conti Nibali.

1. What are the meats considered by the WHO study?

The study looked at processed or processed meats and fresh red meats.

Processed meats are those subjected to processing such as salting, smoking, fermentation, which enhance its flavor or improve its shelf life. For example: hot dogs, frankfurters, sausages, canned meat, cured meats, sausages.

Fresh red meats are those of beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

How much meat for the children?

"The fundamental message that must pass when it comes to nutrition is that it must be as varied as possible. And this is not only true for children, but also and above all for parents. Because if parents eat well, then so do parents. children will gradually learn good eating habits ". Word of Sergio Conti Nibali, pediatrician in charge of the working group on nutrition of the Cultural Association of Pediatricians.
"In concrete terms, what we recommend is a diet in which the main intake of calories comes from products of vegetable origin (cereals, legumes, fruit and vegetables, dried fruit, olive oil). A portion a day of products of animal origin is more than sufficient and since these products include various foods - dairy products, fish, white meats, red meats - the consumption of red meats can be safely limited to once a week. Under these conditions there are no problems for the health of the baby". "However, if mum and dad are used to putting cured meats or red meat on the table one or even more times a day, it should be emphasized that there may be health risks, as confirmed by the IARC study. In this case, it is good to change eating habits".

2. What did the study conclude regarding the dangerousness of these meats?

According to the IARC, the available data are sufficient to state not only that there is an association between consumption of processed meats and the development of cancer (in particular of the colorectal and, perhaps, of the stomach), but also that this association depends on a cause-effect relationship. Here because the agency listed processed meats as a carcinogen.

Regarding fresh red meat, the data show that there is an association between their consumption and the development of certain types of cancer (in particular colorectal, pancreas and prostate). However, it is not yet possible to prove that a cause-and-effect relationship really exists. Because of this, fresh red meat has been classified as probable carcinogen and not as a carcinogen.

3. In the group of carcinogens, processed meat is in the company of substances such as cigarette smoke or asbestos. Does it mean that eating meat is as bad as smoking?

No. One thing is the classification, which depends on the fact that there are data that indicate a cause-and-effect relationship between a certain substance and the risk of developing a certain disease. Another thing is the concrete danger of that substance: in this sense, smoking is much more dangerous than meat.

In fact, it is estimated that every year, in the world, there are about 34.000 cancer deaths due to excessive consumption of processed meat, against a million deaths from cigarette smoking. Furthermore, the deaths from cancers caused by excessive alcohol consumption would be 600.000 and those caused by air pollution 200.000.

4. If I eat cured meats and red meat, does this mean that I will get cancer?

The fact that a substance is classified as a carcinogen does not mean that coming into contact with it is sure to make you sick. Also because the onset of a tumor is a very complex phenomenon, which has to do with various elements.

It is true however that it is an additional risk factor. What we have seen is that a regular and continuous consumption of processed meat increases the risk of getting colorectal cancer. In particular, the risk increases by 18% for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed per day.

5. Should I stop eating meat?

No. The indication is a limit the consumption of red meat and processed meat. As always, when it comes to nutrition, what matters is the variety and balance of a diet. A ham sandwich or steak every now and then are certainly not lethal. Of course, if you eat them every day for lunch and dinner, the risk increases.

6. Why are red and processed meat so dangerous?

The precise reasons are still not well understood. They probably have to do with substances used for processing (such as nitrates or nitrites) or that develop during cooking (especially if it occurs at high temperatures or directly on the fire). These substances could be directly responsible for carcinogenicity.

  • diet
  • tumor
  • 1-2 children years
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