By Ross Walker

A new report from the World Health Organisation compiled by a working group of 22 experts from 10 countries published in Lancet Oncology, reviewed 800 studies examining the link between red meats and the potential risk for bowel cancer. Basic findings from the analysis suggested the consumption of around 50grams of processed meats daily, which is the equivalent of two slices of bacon, a sausage or a ham sandwich, may raise the risk for bowel cancer by 18%. 

But, to put this in more realistic terms, the lifetime risk for bowel cancer in modern society is 6 cases per 100 people per lifetime. The extra daily portions of processed meats increase the number of cases from six per 100 to seven per 100. Hardly earth shattering or colon destroying statistics. 

Another finding from the study suggests that for every 100grams of red meat eaten daily there is an increased bowel cancer risk of 17%. But again, to put this into perspective – the real link with red meats are with well done meat and barbequed meat. So, what is the reality here? Should we all become mung bean eating vegans? Should a piece of bacon, pepperoni or sausage never touch our lips again?  Give me a break! I am not here suggesting processed meats should be a central component of our diet but, I am also suggesting we bring in a few concepts such as perspective, balance and pleasure. 

It has been said that vegetarians live for seven years longer than the rest of us. My theory is it just feels like seven years.

There are so many variables in determining good health, of which sensible eating is just one. To compare the ingestion of processed meats with smoking (as was inferred in this report) is just plain stupid. Smoking is an addictive habit that clearly leads to serious health issues, which all of us have heard thousands of times.

An occasional piece of processed meat ingested once or twice a week has never been proven (and probably never will) to cause any harm. This recent study purely linking the daily high intake of processed meats, which is not just linked to a (relative) increased risk for bowel cancer of 18% but also to a relative increased risk for cardiovascular disease of 40%.

So, what do we take away from this study? Clearly for me it is don’t consume processed meats on a daily basis and when consuming any form of red meat, don’t have it overcooked. 

Prevention of all common diseases is about focusing on The Five Walkerisms to Good Health:

  1. You cannot be healthy and have any addictions.
  2. Get seven to eight hours of sleep most nights of the week.
  3. Good quality eating and less of it.
  4. Three to five hours every week of some form of testing exercise.
  5. Most importantly – happiness.

So, the next time there is a sausage sizzle, will I be refusing the offer – only if they have run out of tomato sauce!