In a massive blow to bacon-apologists across the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that consumption of processed meats can cause colorectal cancer—and that red meat may cause cancer too.
The review of over 800 studies by a panel of 22 international experts classified processed meat such as hot dogs, ham, corned beef, and—yes—bacon as being “carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence.” Red meat including beef, veal, lamb, and pork (so much for pork being “the other white meat”) were classified as being “probably carcinogenic to humans based onlimited evidence.”
This isn’t news, really. The processed/red meat and colorectal cancer link has been under investigation for years—note the aforementioned over 800 studies—but now that Big Brother has a horse (also on the red meat list) in the race, more people will hopefully take notice.
Although the news may dismay the Paleo community, it shouldn’t. Despite many spirited debates on the primitive-eating blogosphere over the benefits of bacon and sausage, processed meat was never intended by the original Paleo pioneers to be on the menu. The Paleo Diet creator Loren Cordain, Ph.D, goes as far to insert bacon right between soda pop and potato chips on his list of “non-Paleo foods which adversely affect the health of humanity.”
And the report isn’t necessarily a reason for vegetarians to dance in the streets, given it suggests that not all meat is murder—for the consumer, at least. White meats (poultry and fish) get a free pass on the cancer list and red meat hasn’t completely been written off. After all, it’s a solid source of protein and many other nutrients, most notably B vitamins, zinc, creatine, and iron. “These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” said Dr. Christopher Wild, Director of WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, in a press release. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value.”
Despite this seemingly sensible call for moderation, the meat lobby has already fired back in full force, questioning the validity of the study, largely based on the argument that cancer shouldn’t be pinned on one cause. “Scientific evidence shows cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods,” claims Barry Carpenter, president of the North American Meat Institute, in
How Much Red Meat Is OK?
The WHO experts concluded that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily increases colorectal cancer risk by 18%. That’s about one Hebrew National Beef Frank. The solution is simple: Don’t eat a hot dog a day. The occasional indulgence, however, is probably okay.
While you’re at it, cut back on the red meat. You don’t need to eliminate it, but limit your intake to once or twice a week. The jury may still out regarding the dangers of beef and friends, but one thing is certain. You don’t need red meat every day. Cutting back might not make a difference, but based on this study, odds are you’ll be saving your own bacon.