On Monday, October 16th, a research division of the World Health Organization (WHO) released new evidence that eating processed meats like bacon or hot dogs can cause cancer in the colon, pancreas, and prostate. The report also noted that red meat in general may also cause cancer.

“This is an important announcement for the average person as it may have a profound impact on their cancer risk,” said Dr. Donald Gravenor, Medical Oncologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital – Memphis. “It basically says that it is important to cut out all processed meats. It is also important to cut back dramatically on red meat.”

This report labeled processed meats as “carcinogenic” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic”. Popular processed meats include hot dogs, bacon, ham, beef jerky, sausages, and canned meat. Any meat that has been fermented, smoked, cured, or salted is considered processed.

If you want to keep red meat in your diet, it is important to do so thoughtfully. The risk of developing cancer from these foods grows as the amount eaten increases. “There is never a safe amount of a carcinogen,” said Dr. Gravenor. “It is recommended that consumers should attempt to cut back on red meat as much as possible.”

He also noted that some studies have shown the carcinogens can be reduced if the meat sits in a marinade that contains vinegar or citrus before cooking.

“In addition, portion size should be adjusted down to the recommended three ounces, which is the size of a deck of cards,” he said. “The rest of the meal should include nutritious vegetables, like dark greens, cruciferous vegetables, and bright red and orange produce.

For people who choose to completely remove red meat from their diet, it is essential to know there are other means of getting the protein, vitamins, and minerals that will also go missing. “There are other sources of protein that so far are not linked to cancer,” said Dr. Gravenor. “These include poultry, seafood, low-fat dairy products, nuts, beans, lentils, and tofu.”

If you have specific questions about how to adjust the amount of red and processed meats you are consuming in your diet, speak with your physician to get personalized recommendations.