The recent World Health Organization (WHO) report highlighting the increased risk of cancer with processed meat consumption should be viewed in a wider perspective to understand its real import. While the WHO says that the finding is significant for public health because of the large-scale consumption of processed meat, but it also acknowledged that red meat still has nutritional value.

The report is primarily aimed at helping government and health agencies provide the optimal dietary guidelines, but it does not mean that consumers of red meat should feel discouraged. As per the WHO figures, more than 8.2 million deaths are caused by cancer each year, but only about 34,000 deaths per year worldwide can be attributed to diets rich in processed meat. This represents a very small risk in a larger perspective, and experts believe that most people should not be excessively worried about it.

No Comparison with Other Substances

Processed meat does not represent the same level of risk as other substances in Group 1 category, which include tobacco smoke, asbestos, and alcohol. For instance, the risk attributed to smoking is many times higher than the risk associated with eating processed meat. According to Dr. John Ioannidis, the chairman of disease prevention at Stanford University, it would be an exaggeration to say that no one should eat red or processed meat, merely on the basis of the WHO findings.

The Risk is not Uniform

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which issued the report on behalf of WHO, pointed out that the likelihood factor of processed meat playing a role in cancer is not uniform. The agency said that it describes the strength of the scientific evidence of a substance being carcinogenic, rather than determining its level of risk.

Red meat, which includes pork, beef, lamb, veal, and mutton, among others, was “probably carcinogenic” based on “limited evidence.” The risks originate from chemicals produced during processing and cooking of the meats. If the meat is cooked at a high temperature or comes in direct contact with a flame, it may produce some types of carcinogens. However, the WHO report informed that there was not sufficient data available as yet to support conclusions in this regard.

Consider another factor: your genes. The DNA that makes you also plays a factor in your risk. Companies like GenoVive will test your DNA and tell you what foods are best and worst for your body, based on your genetics. The company’s CEO Victor Castellon says, “knowing your DNA makeup may be the key to give you the information you need to make healthy lifestyle choices to achieve health outcome.”

Divided Vote

James Coughlin, a nutritional toxicologist and a consultant for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, remarked that the WHO’s conclusions were based on weak associations. He emphasized that the expert panel itself was divided on the issue. Out of 22 members who voted on its conclusions, seven either voted against the findings or chose to abstain from voting.

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