Processed meat is categorized as a Class 1 carcinogen, but still, an estimated 63 to 74 percent of Americans eat hot dogs, deli meats, or bacon every day. Now, new research from Tufts University and Harvard University finds that ultra-processed foods increase the risk of colorectal cancer in men by 29 percent. The research further proves how processed meat presents a serious health risk to American consumers.

“We started out thinking that colorectal cancer could be the cancer most impacted by diet compared to other cancer types,” Lu Wang, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, said in a statement. “Processed meats, most of which fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, are a strong risk factor for colorectal cancer. Ultra-processed foods are also high in added sugars and low in fiber, which contribute to weight gain and obesity, and obesity is an established risk factor for colorectal cancer.”

The researchers examined the diets of 200,000 participants (159,907 women and 46,341 men) by using a food frequency questionnaire administered over 25 years. The participants would fill out a questionnaire with 130 foods every four years. The research team found that 1,294 men and 1,922 women developed colorectal cancer and that for the men, most registered that they consumed a high amount of processed meat. The study did not find an increased risk for women.

“Further research will need to determine whether there is a true sex difference in the associations, or if null findings in women in this study were merely due to chance or some other uncontrolled confounding factors in women that mitigated the association,” Mingyang Song, the co-senior author on the study and an assistant professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.

Participants' diets were classified into categories depending on the level of processed meat consumption. The participants in the highest bracket of processed meat consumption showed significantly higher risks for colorectal cancer. The study highlighted that the most dangerous processed food associated with colorectal cancer are meat, poultry, and fish-based ready-to-eat products.

Sugary Beverages Show Increased Risks of Cancer

During the study, the researchers also found that higher consumption of sugary beverages including fruity beverages, dairy-based drinks, and soda was associated with higher levels of colorectal cancer in men. Currently, there is no significant evidence that links cancer and sugar, however, other studies have identified health dangers associated with high levels of sugar intake.

One study from last November claims that added sugar is one of the biggest culprits to increase levels of heart disease. The study shows that high sugar consumption is linked to inflammation, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and more that could leave the body more susceptible to other fatal diseases.

Regular Meat Consumption Leads to Cancer

Earlier this year, Zhang and Wang collaborated on another study that examined how processed food consumption impacts the health of children and adolescents in the United States. The researchers emphasized that processed foods present a serious risk to all age groups, creating unhealthy dietary habits at an earlier age that could lead to fatal diseases later in life.

“Much of the dependence on these foods can come down to factors like food access and convenience,” Zhang said. “Chemically processing foods can aid in extending shelf life, but many processed foods are less healthy than unprocessed alternatives. We need to make consumers aware of the risks associated with consuming unhealthy foods in quantity and make the healthier options easier to choose instead.”

This March, another study from the United Kingdom found that giving up meat can lower your risk of cancer by 14 percent. The researchers from the University of Oxford examined how diet is directly related to all forms of cancer. The study is the first time that both vegetarian and vegan diets have proven to be associated with the lowest cancer risk when compared to meat-eaters.

This study was further supported by research published in Gastroenterology that claims a diet high in red and processed meat is linked to a higher risk of colon cancer. This research joins a growing body of knowledge that shows plant-based eating can help lower all forms of mortality.

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