Does Red Meat Cause Cancer? Not Exactly. Here’s What You Should Know…

Does red meat cause cancer? Not exactly. Here’s What you should know:

Everyone’s buzzing about the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report that processed meats cause cancer…

Wait, bologna causes cancer?! I’m shocked.

Now, you might get caught up in the media hysteria warning that “RED MEAT WILL STOP YOUR HEART AND GIVE YOU CANCER!”

Here’s the thing about that.

Ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) released their red and processed meat “recommendations,” there’s been a ton of misinformation running rampant about steaks, burgers, and bacon.

I’m still eating red meat, and here’s why. @fatburnman Click To Tweet

The bottom line is, moderate consumption of free-range, pastured, unprocessed meat from healthy animals is fine. In fact, it’s healthy.

The Wild Diet focuses on pasture-raised beef from cows grazing on grass, rather than the feedlot beef you find at most conventional butchers or grocery stores. In the wild, cows graze on grass… not soy protein mixed with GMO corn and bone-meal!

Grass-fed, organically raised beef is significantly higher in important nutrients like:

  • CLA (conjugated linoleic acid)—a proven defense against cancer
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acid—essential to every cell in your body, especially your brain and heart
  • Vitamin E—an antioxidant that’s good for your skin and has anti-aging properties

When buying humanely-raised grass-fed beef, you’ll be getting meat free from hormones, antibiotics, and chemical additives that are widely used in conventional beef to make that steak appear more red and last longer on the shelf.

If you cook it right and cut processed junk (that includes conventional hot dogs and bologna) and toxic foods out of your diet, you’ll catch on that meat isn’t the culprit. Once again, it’s the processing of meat that’s the issue.

Unfortunately, the IARC didn’t differentiate between good quality, pasture-raised meat eaten as part of a clean-food diet and feedlot meat eaten on processed buns with a side of fries.

There is a monumental difference between eating the meat from healthy, pastured animals raised on their natural diet and the factory-farmed, low-quality processed meat you find at convenience stores.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Don’t make a habit of eating factory farmed meat. If you’re going to eat high-fat meals like bacon cheeseburgers, it’s more important than ever to go for pasture-raised animals like grass-fed beef, pastured bison, or wild game meat.

The same goes for bacon – don’t get the processed junk from factory farmed animals. It’s just about as bad as bologna – packed with nitrates, nitrites, MSG, and other substances that make you fat and sick.

Does red meat cause cancer? Not exactly. Here’s What you should know:


Let’s take a look at what you’re actually getting when you eat processed meat like this Oscar Meyer’s Light Bologna:

Mechanically, Separated Chicken, Water, Pork, Corn Syrup, Modified Food Starch (Exceeds Amount Permitted in Regular Bologna), Sodium Lactate, Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Erythorbate, (Made From Sugar), Flavor, Sodium Nitrite, Extractives of Paprika, Potassium Phosphate, Sugar, Potassium Chloride.

Here’s what you should know about some of these ingredients:

  • Mechanically, Separated Chicken: A 2006 study found that 55% of uncooked chicken purchased from supermarkets contained arsenic, which is known to cause cancer in humans. Arsenic is added to the feed of approximately 70% of the broiler chickens raised each year because it is believed to promote growth. Raised in extreme confinement and overcrowded cages, these broiler chickens are bred to grow to “market weight” at an alarming pace. Approximately 26–30% of broiler chickens suffer from difficulty walking because their skeletons have trouble supporting their rapidly growing bodies. This leads to deformities, lameness, and acute heart failure. It’s best to avoid conventionally raised chicken, and go for pasture raised chickens from your local farmer instead.
  • Pork: 60 – 80% of all pork factory-farmed in the U.S. contains a barely-tested drug called ractopamine—a hormone-disruptor that is used to rapidly fatten pigs. 160 nations, including China, have banned pork from pigs fed this drug because it’s not safe for human consumption. This, along with the fact that factory-farmed pigs are some of the sickest of all feedlot animals, should make you want to steer clear of commercial pork at all costs. Go for pasture-raised pork from your local farm or farmers market, or order it online from US Wellness Meats, Slanker or ButcherBox.
  • Corn Syrup doesn’t just cause inflammation in your body, blast your blood with sugar, and destroy your gut—it’s also genetically modified. GMO Bt corn, which accounts for almost 90% of the corn grown in the US, is made by splicing a toxic pesticide into the very DNA of corn itself, creating a grain that breaks open the stomach of any insect that ingests it. It’s not exactly health food.
  • Modified Food Starch (Exceeds Amount Permitted in Regular Bologna) might be either GMO corn, “dwarfed” wheat, tapioca, rice or potato and is treated with acid, sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, emulsifiers, starch ether or other chemicals. Oh and there’s more of it than is usually permitted. Awesome.
  • Flavors can contain more than 100 different chemicals, as well as “incidental additives” which means the manufacturer does not have to disclose their presence on food labels and they often make up 80% – 90% of the flavoring mixture. At least 8 of these chemicals used in flavorings are known to cause cancer in lab animals.
  • Sodium Nitrites are chemicals commonly used as coloring agents, preservatives and flavoring. They react with naturally occurring components of protein and can form nitrosamines, which are known cancer-causing compounds. Nitrosamines can form in nitrate-treated meat or in the digestive tract.
  • Sugar is bad for obvious reasons, but unless “cane sugar” is specified on the label you’re most likely getting GMO beet sugar, which accounts for 95% of sugar beet crops in the US.

At least 3 ingredients on this package of bologna have already been linked to cancer, and the other ingredients are questionable, too.

Now that’s a bunch of bologna.

Compare that to a pasture-raised, grass-fed steak that you bought directly from your local farmer or Farmer’s Market. You even shook the hand and had a brief conversation with the man that raised the animal, and you remember seeing pictures of his farm he proudly displayed on his farm stand.

There’s only one ingredient in that steak: Grass-fed beef.

WHO includes a generalization in their report, saying that red meat “probably” causes cancer, too.

Here’s why that bothers me.

First off, their study doesn’t take into consideration the following in regard to red meat or “processed meat”:

  • How the livestock was raised. The feedlot beef in this study wasn’t raised on pasture or fed a natural diet of grasses. Instead, thousands of cows are confined in tightly packed facilities full of manure where bacteria can get on their hides and then into the slaughterhouses. These cows are fed hormones, antibiotics, and GMO grain feed.
  • How the meat was cooked. You can greatly reduce the carcinogens in meat by slow-cooking it rather than cooking at high temperatures.
  • What else was on the plate. Plenty of vegetables should be included in everyone’s diet, which aids in digestion, reverses the risk of cancer, and helps balance out the acidity of meat.

The lack of vegetables in the average meat-eater’s diet is likely the real reason for an increased risk of cancer.

The reason is many-fold—including the commonly known fact that vegetables provide a ton of essential vitamins and minerals as well as fiber to keep you “moving.”

A bigger reason is this: The chlorophyll in green plants actually counteracts the iron-containing compound in red meat called heme.

When unchecked, the heme lands in your gut where it’s metabolized into compounds that are toxic to human cells—increasing your cancer risk. BUT if there’s chlorophyll in your gut as well, it will block those toxic metabolites from ever forming in your intestinal tract in the first place.

So, be sure to enjoy a huge salad or some roasted Brussels sprouts with that grass-fed steak. And include some spinach and onion in your bacon and egg omelet.

Even WHO doesn’t recommend completely cutting meat out of your diet. However, cutting the processed additive-filled bologna, lunch meat, and hot dogs is a good idea.


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Are you still worried about your meat causing cancer? Comment below to share your thoughts.

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  1. Abel, I greatly appreciate the work that went into this post. I am definitely going to forward it to my friends and family who just take what the World Health Organization says as “Gospel” without questioning the underlying data. Thanks so much!

    • Right on, Mark. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this piece – so you can share it with people who give you a hard time for eating grass-fed meats! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  2. Abel, thanks for all that you do in the name of health! So I am wondering what your thoughts are on good quality processed meats i.e salami, kielbasa, pepperoni etc… from applegate farms and diestal etc… Items that aare found in health food stores (i live in Seattle and they have pcc natural markets and WholeFoods). Many of these items have celery juice in them that apparently turn into nitrates in one’s body once ingested??? I value your opinion and would love to hear your thoughts about this and how often you feel these can be consumed! Many thanks!

    • Hi Jules, thanks for the question.

      You may be interested to know that earlier this year Applegate was purchased by Hormel, the same folks that bring us Spam and Jennie-O Turkey.

      Often, ingredients that sound healthy like “celery juice” or even “rosemary extract” aren’t as natural as they seem. Processed food manufacturers know the long list of chemicals like carboxymethylcellulose, are making us suspicious of their food-like products. So, they’re quietly replacing those additives with more natural sounding ingredients.

      When you see “rosemary extract” on the label, for example, you’re not looking at an aromatic essence of the herb that was handmade by artisans in Italy. It’s actually added to foods as a preservative, and by the time it emerges from its complex extraction process, this brown liquid or powder has no scent or smell of the fresh herb.

      This is why it’s more important than ever to grow your own food, and/or go to the farm and farmer’s market and meet the people who get dirt under their nails. We always ask the farmers we buy bacon from if they use nitrites or nitrates. Sometimes they do, so we don’t buy it from them.

      Do the best you can. If you end up eating a slice of bacon from the Spam company, it’s not a big deal every once in a while. But we don’t recommend eating it on a regular basis.

      • Thanks Alyson… Wow I did not know any of this. I appreciate your thourough response. I so wanted to trust these “healthy” and more conscious companies. Time to make more changes. A few other questions… what about the sliced turkey, roasted or smoked, from Applegate? And what about “smoked” meat??? I would very much value your thoughts…

        thanks, Jules

  3. Patricia Oliphant says:

    Hi!!!! I understand that grass fed meat is best. But what if you can’t afford the high quality grass fed meats? Would it still be healthier to eat the cheaper meats along with veggies and very low healthy carbs or go back to lofat and sugar free diets that I have been doing unsuccessfully for years???? I have your book but I got a different impression from your book than from this article. Thank you in advance!!!! Also, is there a way to join your group again at a cheaper price? I read everything you post that I can find but I am not able to afford even your discounted monthly rate.
    Thank you and God Bless!!!!

    • Hi Patricia, do the best you can. If you end up eating low quality meats, cut the fat off and discard it or go for the lean cuts. Like humans, animals store toxins in their fat, so you’ll be avoiding a lot of toxins that way.

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