Benefits of Pork in Your Diet

IARC: Evaluating the Cancer Risk of Red and Processed Meat

International Agency for Research on Cancer Update


On October 26, 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a news release and article in The Lancet Oncology on a recent panel evaluation to understand the cancer risk of red and processed meat.


In the report, processed meat was classified as Group 1, or carcinogenic to humans, and red meat was classified as Group 2A, or probably carcinogenic to humans. The IARC panel committee evaluated the risk this past month in a series of meetings in France. The complete monograph defining the full details of the report and the studies it considered will be published in 2016.
The IARC panel’s conclusion on red and processed meat is not based on solid evidence, as the primary body of evidence used by IARC was based on observational studies that are not able to define a cause-and-effect relationship.


In 2010, a meta-analysis of 28 prospective studies (representing 20 independent non-overlapping study populations) concluded that the current epidemiologic evidence is not sufficient to support a positive association between processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer given the weak magnitudes, varying processed meat definitions between studies, and potential confounding factors. This prior published research is solid evidence that IARC’s conclusions on processed and red meat is faulted.
Cancer risk is complex. 
Any attempt to tie specific foods with a cause-effect relationship to cancer is difficult at best. In fact, the studies examined by IARC did not consistently define the types of red and processed meats, which vary greatly regionally and globally. We know many factors are in play for elevating cancer risk, including genetics, lifestyle, and how meat is prepared. Health professionals continue to recommend including lean meats, such as pork, in a healthy, balanced diet. You can have confidence that pork will continue to be an ideal choice for meeting your protein needs.
What is IARC?
IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer headquartered in Lyon, France, operates under the auspices of the World Health Organization. IARC convenes groups of scientists from around the globe three times a year, and these Working Groups evaluate the weight of the evidence that an agent, chemical compound, complex mixtures (including individual foods), occupational exposures, physical and biological agents and lifestyle factors, can influence the risk of cancer in humans. To learn more about IARC, please visit their website or visit the International Food Information Council Foundation.
What does a Group 1 classification mean for processed meats?
IARC concluded that processed meat belongs in a Group 1 category (a carcinogen) and a category that includes sunlight and outdoor air. As cancer risk is complex, we know any attempt to tie specific foods and cancer risk in a cause-effect relationship is difficult. Genetics, lifestyle, and diet are all significant factors that can contribute to cancer risk, beyond simply defining a specific food. Previous studies examined by IARC did not consistently define the types of red and processed meats, which vary greatly globally and create complexity in the classification.
What does a Group 2A classification mean for red meat?
IARC concluded that red meat belongs in a Group 2A category as a “probable carcinogen.” This category includes lifestyle exposures like working in a barber shop and shift work. The 2A classification does not establish a direct link between red meats and an increase in cancer. “Probable” does not mean that red meats alone cause cancer. You can have great confidence in including pork as part of a balanced, healthy diet.

Nutrient-Rich Pork: Part of Healthy Eating Patterns

Over the past two decades, America’s pig farmers have worked closely with their swine nutritionists, veterinarians, and swine geneticists to make changes in what pigs eat, how they are raised and bred to develop a leaner, quality pork product that is desired and preferred by our customers.

In the market place today, lean, nutrient-rich pork is versatile, affordable and accessible for many Americans. Pork has many beneficial qualities to make pork easy to incorporate into any healthy and balanced diet.

Source of Key Nutrients: Pork is both a good source of protein and also provides several important vitamins and minerals. A 3-ounce serving of pork is an “excellent” source of thiamin, selenium, protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus, and a “good” source of riboflavin, zinc, and potassium.[1]

Lean Protein: Today’s pork is 16% leaner and 27% lower in saturated fat compared to 20 years ago.[2] Seven cuts of pork meet the USDA guidelines for “lean” by containing less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams of meat.[3]  Popular pork tenderloin has the same amount of fat as a skinless chicken breast.

Heart-Healthy: Pork is naturally low in sodium and a “good” source of potassium – two nutrients that, when coupled, can help regulate blood pressure.  Pork tenderloin is certified as heart-healthy by the American Heart Association with its heart-check mark, indicating that it contains less than 6.5 grams of fat, 1 gram or less of saturated fat (and 15% or less calories from saturated fat) and 480 milligrams or less of sodium per label serving, among other criteria.


[1] National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 27. Based on 3-ounce cooked servings (roasted), separable lean only.

[2] National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 27. Based on 3-ounce cooked servings (roasted or broiled), visible fat trimmed after cooking.

[3] National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 27.