For Your Health's Sake: Break Up With Bacon (And Other Processed Meats)
Sat, April 10, 2021

For Your Health's Sake: Break Up With Bacon (And Other Processed Meats)

There are endless reasons as to why people around the world love bacon and other processed food. But studies have shown that what tastes good in the form of bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausages, and other deli meats are actually harmful to your health / Photo by: Elena Veselova via 123RF

 

There are endless reasons as to why people around the world love bacon and other processed food. But studies have shown that what tastes good in the form of bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausages, and other deli meats are actually harmful to your health. The World Health Organization has some serious concerns about American’s favorite food, with the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifying processed meat as carcinogenic or causing cancer. In the same way, red meat may also be a carcinogenic food item as well, such as beef, pork, lamb, and goat. Because the meat has been treated in some way to preserve or add flavor through processes such as salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking, chemicals are introduced that react to meats and, when ingested, can damage our cells and increase the likelihood of cancer. If you’re really into bacon and other processed meats, it’s time to rethink your diet.

 

Global Production of Meat and Instances of Cancer

According to Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, global meat production has increased rapidly over the past 50 years, with total production quadrupling since 1961. In terms of region, Asia produces almost 40% to 50% of the world’s meat or 133.17 million tons, a shift from traditional major meat producers Europe and North America, which accounted for 42% and 25% or 30 million tons and 17.99 million tons, respectively in 1961. By 2013, production in Europe and North America decreased to 19% and 15%, respectively.

A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology looked at people who eat an average of 76 grams of processed meat a day or approximately three slices of ham or the average amount of meat that people in the United Kingdom consumed daily. It found that there is an increased risk of stomach cancer or bowel cancer among those people. Today, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest killer among all types of cancer, as mentioned by the charity group Bowel Cancer UK. More than 42,000 people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK while globally, there are 268,000 diagnosed with bowel cancer today.

How Does Meat Cause Cancer?

Red meat and processed meat have been classified as a “definite” cause of cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), with classifications according to groups: causes cancer, probably causes cancer, possibly causes cancer, not classifiable as a cause of cancer, and probably not a cause of cancer. Red meats and processed meats go in the top two categories with bacon, salami, sausages, and hot dogs under group 1 and pork, beef, and lamb under group 2a, which does not include chicken or fish. Tobacco is among the other cancer-causing source in group 1 and is as much of a risk of getting cancer as processed meats. 

There are three chemicals linked to increased bowel cancer risk found in meats and added during processing or when cooking. Haem, which is a red pigment found in red meat, is among the three chemicals known to increase the risk of cancer. The other two are nitrates/nitrites used to store and keep meat fresh for longer, and heterocyclic amines and polycyclic amines produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures. The chemicals damage cells in our bowels, and it is the accumulation of damage that increases the risk of cancer over time.

Red meats and processed meats go in the top two categories with bacon, salami, sausages, and hot dogs under group 1 and pork, beef, and lamb under group 2a, which does not include chicken or fish / Photo by: Valentyn Volkov via 123RF

 

Can People Survive?

A study that analyzed data from half a million UK adults found moderate processed meat and red meat eaters had an increased risk of bowel cancer by 20% compared to low meat eaters, that is, for every 10,000 people in the study who ate 21 grams of red and processed meat a day, 40 were diagnosed with bowel cancer. Eating 76 grams caused an extra eight cases of bowel cancer for the same number of people. As mentioned in the IARC study, increased risk of bowel cancer happens in every 50 grams of processed meat and 100 grams of red meat a day, with recent studies showing even lesser portions increasing that risk.

To counteract this, eating food high in fiber, such as whole grains in the form of wholemeal bread or brown rice, and additional physical activity reduces the risk of bowel cancer to mitigate damages in the cells from eating the meat. The combination of fiber and physical activity helps us poo more often and reduces the amount of harmful chemicals that stay in our system although studies have minimal evidence on how much this would help. In any case, according to Bowel Cancer UK, bowel cancer is treatable and curable if diagnosed early or at the earliest stage. This drops significantly if diagnosed as the disease develops, with more than 16,000 people dying from bowel cancer in the UK each year.

In order to prevent or minimize the risk of bowel cancer, an overall healthy diet along with physical activity can make a big difference. Consider revising diet and limiting the consumption of processed meat and red meat.