It’s okay, you can still eat bacon – Sometimes.

In the world of nutrition, there always seems to be a latest and greatest study that has discovered something ‘new.’ This past week we found out that eating bacon, hot dogs or other processed meat on a daily basis could be bad for you. Hmmm…seems to me that is a conversation that we’ve had before. Remember the push for, ‘Meatless Mondays?’  Whenever a study comes out and we start hearing  tabloid like headlines, I wait. Hearing that eating processed meats is the same as smoking causes me to hit the pause button and refrain from vowing to be a devout vegan based on these most recent findings. Something interesting happens as the dust settles and we take a closer look at what the ‘quoted’ study actually tells us. Here is the breakdown. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed and cured meats a group one carcinogen. This puts this type of meat in the same category as asbestos, tobacco , arsenic and alcohol. Other red meat was classified as a 2A carcinogen, meaning that it is quite probable to be a cause of cancer. To be clear, I like the WHO and think that they generally have our best interest in mind. I just happen to think that the latest findings on meat were blown out of proportion.

To put the findings in perspective, it’s important to understand that about seven per cent of Canadian men and six per cent of Canadian women will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetimes, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

So, starting from there, an average Canadian man who eats a 50-gram serving of ham each day boosts his risk of getting colorectal cancer to about 8.26 per cent — an increase of 18 per cent from a person’s baseline risk. And, theoretically, it would be a little lower since the baseline figure of seven per cent would already include people who eat processed meat.

Other risks that can predispose someone to colon cancer include having inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of the illness, age, smoking and certain genetic conditions.

Smoking, on the other hand, increases someone’s risk of developing lung cancer by about 25 times — or 2,500 per cent, according to Cancer Research UK.”

source: Laura Fraser, CBC News

Other things to consider are the overall diet and lifestyle of the people studied. Were all the people involved in the studies more likely to eat a fast food burger with a white bun and French fries or were they eating a homemade grass fed burger on a whole grain bun with a garden salad? Were they all marathon runners or couch potatoes? Were all participants lean or obese? As you can see, these findings begin to pose more questions than answer them.  There is no way to reasonably account for the almost countless variables.

Do I think that the findings are a bunch of hogwash? Absolutely not! Unfortunately, due to the media coverage, I think it only added to people’s confusion over what they should eat. The headlines made it sound like I would be a horrible parent if I ever let my kids eat another hotdog while in my care. If I choose to continue eating meat, I should get my things in order because my time is nearly up. Smoking a pack of cigarettes every day IS NOT THE SAME as eating a sausage once a month.

Here is what I think the findings should cause us to consider.

  1. We should all be eating more whole, fresh foods. When eating processed foods, we should try and ensure that they have been minimally processed and free from questionable ingredients.
  2. We should try to buy our meat from trusted sources such as the farmer who raised the animal or local butcher shops. Factory raised animals are often treated in ways that would make us shudder if we knew the circumstances these animals were forced to endure all in the name of a ‘cheap’ steak.
  3. We should be keeping portion sizes in check and paying attention to when our body signals us that we’ve had enough.
  4. We should aim for more meatless meals. Most of us simply just don’t get enough veggies. Taking meat out on a regular basis and eating plant based protein would be a good thing for our overall health. Not sure you would survive on a meatless meal? Try my black bean burgers out. They are delicious and filling.
  5. Enjoy bacon and sausage – sometimes. Let’s be reasonable in our consumption. When possible, look for a more natural approach to the smoking process or plant based nitrates.