Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast found a big difference between processed meat treated with nitrites and nitrite-free processed meat.
The research is published in Nutrients and was conducted by Dr. Brian Green et al.
In the study, scientists reviewed existing evidence on the link between processed meat and the development of bowel, colon, and rectal cancers.
They found that not all processed meats carry the same level of cancer risk.
When the researchers isolated research that only tested the consumption of processed meat containing sodium nitrite—a preservative used to extend shelf life and enhance color—evidence of a link with colon cancer jumped from half to just under two-thirds—65 percent.
The WHO classified all processed meat as a carcinogen in 2015—including bacon, sausages, and ham as well as continental European products like prosciutto and salami.
Not all processed meat, however, contains nitrites.
British and Irish sausages, for example, are not processed with nitrites even though many of the Continental and US sausage equivalents—like frankfurters, pepperoni, and chorizo—are.
Some newer types of bacon and ham, processed without nitrites, are also appearing on the market.
In its 2015 statement, the WHO did not distinguish between processed meats containing nitrates and those without.
Based on the results of their study, the researchers now believe there is a need to define the health risk of both types of processed meat—separately.
The team says it is important people eat a healthy, balanced diet. The current Department of Health guidance advises the public to consume no more than 70g of red or processed meat per day.
For more information about cancer risk, please see recent studies about common vegetable that may help lower your cancer risk, and results showing that most cancers are caused by these 5 things.
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