Bad news for bacon lovers: The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that bacon, sausages, and other processed meats can cause cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer(IARC), a division of the WHO, announced yesterday via press release that red and processed meats are carcinogenic to humans. The agency came to this conclusion after reviewing more than 800 studies linking meat consumption to colon or colorectal cancer.
Processed meats, together with alcohol, cigarettes, arsenic, and asbestos are included in the list of top-tier cancer-causing substances, while red meat is on a slightly lower level, and considered only “probably carcinogenic” to humans. Why? The IARC explains that high-temperature cooking methods, especially methods that require direct contact with flame (i.e. barbecuing and pan-frying) produce more carcinogenic compounds.
Bacon is included in the red meat category, as well as muscle meat from beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat. Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance its flavor or improve preservation. Examples of processed meats are hot dogs, hams, sausages, corned beef, and canned meat.
According to the IARC, each 50 gram portion of processed meat—that’s equivalent of eating one hot dog or two slices of bacon, according to the 2011 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey —eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. "For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed," IARC epidemiologist Dr. Kurt Straif said.
Experts have warned against eating too much processed meat before. It has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, and pancreatic and prostate cancer, so the report is not a complete surprise. However, red meat has its nutritional value, too: it's a prime source of protein and nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, and zinc.
The WHO report does recommend limiting consumption of red meat and avoiding consuming processed meat for a healthy diet. But having a healthy diet does not stop there. UERM Medical Center staff dietitianDaisy C. Persiaagrees that meat and poultry is essential to one's diet, especially for a growing child. However, the key is finding a balance of essential nutrients found in nutrient0-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, in a plate.
It’s all about moderation, so don’t fret: You can still have your dose of bacon once in a while.
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Sources: October 26, 2015. “IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat” (iarc.fr) and "Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat" (iarc.fr) October 26, 2015. “Bacon and other processed meats can cause cancer, experts say” (reuters.com)