OBJECTIVE: There is increasing evidence for a significant effect of processed meat (PM) intake on cancer risk. However, refined knowledge on how components of this heterogeneous food group are associated with cancer risk is still missing. Here, actual data on the intake of PM subcategories is given; within a food-based approach we considered preservation methods, cooking methods and nutrient content for stratification, in order to address most of the aetiologically relevant hypotheses. DESIGN AND SETTING: Standardised computerised 24-hour diet recall interviews were collected within the framework of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), a prospective cohort study in 27 centres across 10 European countries. SUBJECTS: Subjects were 22,924 women and 13,031 men aged 35-74 years. RESULTS: Except for the so-called 'health-conscious' cohort in the UK, energy-adjusted total PM intake ranged between 11.1 and 47.9 g day(-1) in women and 18.8 and 88.5 g day(-1) in men. Ham, salami-type sausages and heated sausages contributed most to the overall PM intake. The intake of cured (addition of nitrate/nitrite) PM was highest in the German, Dutch and northern European EPIC centres, with up to 68.8 g day(-1) in men. The same was true for smoked PM (up to 51.8 g day(-1)). However, due to the different manufacturing practice, the highest average intake of NaNO2 through PM consumption was found for the Spanish centres (5.4 mg day(-1) in men) as compared with German and British centres. Spanish centres also showed the highest intake of NaCl-rich types of PM; most cholesterol- and iron-rich PM was consumed in central and northern European centres. Possibly hazardous cooking methods were more often used for PM preparation in central and northern European centres. CONCLUSIONS: We applied a food-based categorisation of PM that addresses aetiologically relevant mechanisms for cancer development and found distinct differences in dietary intake of these categories of PM across European cohorts. This predisposes EPIC to further investigate the role of PM in cancer aetiology.
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