Does Meat Really Rank Along Side Smoking For Cancer?

You’ve probably seen this one by now all over social media.   You’ve probably seen some reports saying eating meat is as bad as smoking in regards to cancer.  This is just click bait journalism and its border line fraudulent.  So I summarised a bunch of sensible reports out there who responded to the click-bait article’s.

Here’s What Was Really Said

First, the findings were mostly referring to cancer of the colon or rectum. While colorectal cancer is very important, you can’t generalize the researchers’ findings to all other cancer types.

Second, This isn’t new news.  It’s not like we didn’t know this stuff already. Processed red meat has been strongly linked to colorectal cancer for many years.  Regular ol’ unprocessed red meat is more of a mixed bag in terms of evidence, but still has several mechanisms by which it may increase cancer incidence.

Third – much of the evidence that was reviewed was epidemiological evidence, observing people over time to see if disease develops.  This shows correlation not causation.

But seeing as cancer takes so long to develop and so many potential causative factors are involved, the only option is combining a ton of epi evidence with animal and in vitro studies, plus a sprinkling of randomized trials that look at intermediate outcomes.

​So you have to take the bad with the good with epi evidence — human diets and lifestyles are so variable that synthesizing the results of studies on Japanese people with the results of studies on Americans is going to be … difficult.

The Stats

A person’s risk of colorectal cancer rises by a factor of about 1.1 or 1.2 for every serving of PROCESSED MEAT consumed per day.

“The panel defined processed meat as those “transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.”

“The risks arise from chemicals produced by processing the meats and from cooking.

Cooking Method

Cooking at high temperatures or with the meat in direct contact with a flame can produce certain types of carcinogens, but the report said there was not enough data to support conclusions about whether the way meat was cooked affected cancer risks or about whether it was better to eat it raw, which carries its own risks.”

Given the frequency of colorectal cancer, that means your risk of getting colorectal cancer over your life goes from about 5 percent to 5.9 percent and, yes, your bacon mileage may vary so here’s a picturegram for you.

This means that based on the report, diets high in processed meat could be expected to contribute to about 30,000 deaths per year across the globe, though the true number could also be far less, Dr. Ioannidis said.”

“If this is the level of risk you’re running your life on, then you don’t really have much to worry about,” says Alfred Neugut, an oncologist and cancer epidemiologist at Columbia.

What this shows is that for every 200g of uncooked bacon you have every day you;re chance of colerectal cancer goes up by 0.9%.


“Smoking however causes a roughly 20-fold increase in a person’s risk of developing lung and other types of cancer, and every year it results in about a million deaths

Well that’s that then.

In Other Words

So in other words, choose high quality meats over poor quality meats. If you’re going to eat processed meats, it might be a good idea to choose uncured products over cured products.

Lack of fibre is also the a major factor in colorectal cancer so if  you’re prepared to eat 1kg of meat per day, be prepared to eat 1kg of veggies per day.  And oh yeah, stop overcooking your meat.

But I’m just a personal trainer so here’s an opinion from someone more credible than me  :

“I think it’s very important that we don’t terrorize people into thinking that they should not eat any red meat at all,” said Dr. John Ioannidis, the chairman of disease prevention at Stanford University who was not involved in the new report.

“There’s some risk involved, but it’s much less than smoking or alcohol. I think it would be an exaggeration to say based on this that no one should be eating red or processed meat.”