Please Don’t Touch My Bacon

In fact don’t even look at it sideways…

Ok, so it’s been a really tough week for bacon, well red meat in general.

Here is what we know:

  • The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) which is part of The WHO (no not the band) sifted through a metric crap ton (~800) studies
  • They were looking for links between processed meats/red meats, and cancer – specifically colon cancer
  • These experts concluded their research and classified bacon as 2A “probably carcinogenic” to humans- it now sits in that group alongside asbestos and tobacco. Appealing right?
  • What the studies are SUGGESTING is that eating 50 grams of processed meat raises your colon cancer risk by 18%. That sounds like a lot.
  • The AVERAGE person’s risk for developing Colorectal cancer in their lifetime is ~4.5% according to the National Cancer Institute of the NIH 
  • In 2015 that number is 8.4%. 18% of 8.4% comes out to 9.91%. This is not great- and again we are talking about modifiable risk factors – but I will get to that in a second, but it’s not as bad as many people are interpreting it to be
  • It is in the nature of the media to sensationalize articles like this- skim over facts and jump right to exciting “facts” which when taken out of context can be confusing. 
  • Lastly, the AICR recommended avoidance of processed meats, and consuming no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week.

Ok. So 18 ounces equates to having 3-4 ounces of red meat 4-6 times per week. 

Here’s a big thing that is still an unknown variable in all of this- and that is what specifically about the processed meat is the issue:

  1. Is it the red meat that is causative?
  2. Where does the QUALITY of meat come in? (And was it even considered when reviewing these studies?!)
  3. Is it the processesing (addition of nitrates, etc)?  (Again we get into quality- how does bacon that’s home cured compare to the shelf bacon at your grocery store). 
  4. Is it the cooking style? 
  5. Is it a combination of all of the above or multiple variables above?

(The article posted below sheds some more light on #2, and how digestion interacts with us). 

Let’s think about this- 2 oz equates to about 2-4 strips of bacon (depending on thickness). 

So for those of you who think they are losing their bacon for ever and ever…. Don’t fret. I love bacon but I could not eat it EVERY DAY. 

So let’s look at the big picture:

-We can still have a very nutritious and healthful diet that includes red meat. Red meat is wonderful source of amino acids, B12 and iron- but have it as part of a rotation with fish, chicken and turkey

-It’s important to not just blame bacon and sausage here. Remember those lunch meats over there…. Guess what: processed meat.

This report has started a lot of condemnation of processed meats, but it think what may prove beneficial is taking a step back and examining:

  • Your risk factors for colorectal cancer/medical history
  • How much processed/red meat do you eat?

I think this report would be best served if we (media including) started using the information to provoke thought and an assessment of our overall diets. Instead of feeling immense fear when having that delicious bacon on an infrequent basis. Use the info to assess – how much processed meat do you actually eat (remember lunch meat counts too)- and make small adjustments.

Also let’s think about this- if we start eliminating red meat and replace it with highly processed carbs/other crap- we aren’t really helping ourselves.

As a whole we need to remember the concept of balance. Eat foods that nourish: fruits, veggies, meat (yep red meat), poultry, eggs, fish, (quality) dairy, and whole grains…did I mention vegetables? Eat foods that offer nutritional value more often than you indulge in foods less less nutritional value. 
So go forward, and continue enjoying bacon in moderation, and maybe knock it off with the lunch meat sandwiches. Sorry not sorry Subway. 
Sources and References

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