Well, folks, bacon is back in the news.
This morning, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization declared processed meat as a known carcinogen, based on sufficient evidence. The experts concluded that each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Red meat carried a slightly lower risk, but was still classified as being “probably carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence.
– Colorectal cancer (combination of colon and rectal cancer) causes nearly 50,000 deaths in the U.S. per year (second only to lung cancer).
– Processed meat includes bacon, hot dogs, ham, sausage, and other cured meats like cold cuts and deli meat or bologna.
– A 50-gram portion of processed meat looks like this:
- Six medium pieces of pan-fried bacon
- A 3-ounce patty of breakfast sausage
- One bun length hotdog (including turkey, beef, and/or pork)
And so have we. We limit all of our red meat portions to three cooked ounces, and use cured meats like bacon and sausage sparingly. We use them as flavor boosters, most often in very plant-forward dishes. We encourage more plants, more seafood, and more whole grains.
The Final Word
So here’s the thing. Yes, this is breaking news in the sense that a direct relationship has now been identified between colorectal cancer and processed meats. But it’s not exactly new news.
In a 2012 Harvard study, researchers found that in addition to raising the risk of colorectal cancer and other health problems, consumption of red meat can actually shorten your life. Since then, they’ve been emphasizing a more plant-based diet approach, with recommendations to substitute red or processed meat with a healthier protein source in order to reduce risk.
Here’s what the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee wrote in its report, released this past February: “the U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.”
The Final Word
So should you stop eating meat? Well, not exactly. Moderation is key. The report recognized that “eating meat has known health benefits,” but that the cancer risk increases with the amount of meat consumed. Should you eat less red meat, and more plants or seafood in its place? Absolutely.
Our suggestion? Focus on adding more seafood and plant-based protein to the diet such as beans, nuts, and whole grains. In the words of Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”