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Processed meat like bacon linked to cancer: WHO

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Eating sausages, ham and other processed meats has been linked to colon cancer, and red meat “probably” does too, an arm of the World Health Organization said on Monday.

Pigging out on bacon, pastrami or hot dogs is even worse for you than you thought — a new study ranked processed meats as a cancer risk alongside cigarettes and asbestos.

A group of 22 scientists evaluated more than 800 studies from around the globe and found “sufficient evidence” that daily consumption of processed meat caused an uptick in risk for colon, stomach and other cancers, the World Health Organization reported Monday.

The experts put processed meat in the same risk category as group 1 carcinogens like tobacco — but that doesn’t mean sausages are actually as likely to cause cancer as cigarettes. It means the evidence linking meats to cancer is as strong as the link between smoking and the disease.

Unprocessed red meat was classified as less dangerous but still “probably carcinogenic to humans,” the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said.

The experts concluded that every 1.76 ounces of processed meat eaten daily increases a person’s risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

The findings also suggested a 17% increased risk of cancer from eating 3.5 ounces of red meat each day.

Processed meats were defined as meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes used to enhance flavor or improve preservation.

Hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky and canned meats were listed as examples by the IARC.

The study described red meat as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

It said grilling, pan-frying or other high-temperature methods of cooking red meat produce the highest amounts of chemicals suspected to cause cancer.

The news wasn’t enough to stop Eric Wright, 50, from ordering a fried steak sandwich at Nadal 2 Deli in Harlem on Monday.

“You wonder who’s paying for all this research. It’s far out to put processed meat in the same category as cigarettes. If you’re going to make incredible claims, you have to have incredible evidence,” he said.

“In fairness, you’ve got to mix it up,” he said, referring to his diet.

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Meat industry groups have protested the WHO classification.

Health experts were quick to add Monday that unprocessed red meat can provide valuable nutrients, so the goal is balance.

“I think everyone pretty much knows that when you eat bacon, it’s not good for you. What people need to remember is that if you’re having something bad, at least make sure you’re balancing it with lots of things that are good,” Dr. Marleen Meyers, a medical oncologist with the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone, told the Daily News.

And sorry, but turkey bacon and turkey sausage can be just as bad as pork or beef if they contain the same harmful chemicals, she said.

“In processed foods, generally it’s the chemicals. So read the labels,” she said. “With (unprocessed) red meat, it’s the way you cook it. If it’s cooked until it’s burned, the amino acids react in a way that can cause problems.”

Meat industry groups quickly cried foul on Monday.

“Cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods,” The North American Meat Institute said in statement that stressed other lifestyle and environmental factors.

The American Cancer Society has long recommended moderate consumption of red meat and processed meat.

ndillon@nydailynews.com

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