Last week the World Health Organization released a report that classified bacon and other processed meats as “carcinogenic to humans…based on sufficient evidence in humans that consumption causes colorectal cancer.”
The media reacted instantly with articles that read, “Bacon: as bad as cigarettes” and “Hot dogs can kill.” Of course, a lot of the coverage was sensationalized and a few key facts were missed so we looked into the controversy a bit deeper and asked Mountain Trek Nutritionist Jenn Kierstead to give us her thoughts about it all and whether processed meats are indeed detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing.
What the W.H.O. Report Actually Said
To see the World Health Organization’s press release about the report regarding processed meat and red meat, click on this link: WHO-press-release. However, here are a few key items pulled from the document.
- At this juncture the agency’s discussion of red meat is premature and inconclusive because it admits it’s based on “limited evidence” and the fact that “red meat has nutritional value.”
- However, after reviewing the scientific literature of 22 experts from 10 countries the organization says it has “sufficient evidence” to classify processed meats as carcinogenic.
- According to the experts, eating 50 grams of processed meat per day increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18%
Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), bacon, ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.
Not All Bacon Is the Same
What’s interesting about the report is it doesn’t qualify what exactly “processed meats” are. To be clear, there are definitely examples of bacon, ham and sausages out there that do not fall into this category. Our nutritionist Jenn says eating bacon from a locally raised, pastured pig is a far-cry from the shrink-wrapped rasher at your nearby super-store. However, it’s safe to say that, in this case, the W.H.O. is referring to mass-produced meats.
“The key word in all of this is ‘processed,'” Jenn says. “Anything that goes through processing means it’s been tampered with; it’s altered and eventually becomes a non-food. In the case of processed meats, they go through a curing process that requires a lot of nitrites and other preservatives so that they can last and last on grocery store shelves.”
What Would Mountain Trek Do?
“It looks like processed meat is the next hot topic surrounding food,” Jenn says. “Every so often news agencies and the general public will jump on the latest superfood or fad diet and that dominates the discussion.”
“At Mountain Trek we tend to ignore the hype,” she continues. “We’ve always stuck with the same program around nutrition and its proven to work: eat local, healthy meals as often as you can and, occasionally if you have some bacon or a hot dog, it’s not going to be the end of the world.”
In other words, don’t eat bacon every breakfast or foot-longs every lunch. But indulging during a Sunday brunch or at the ballpark is OK.
Remember, though, the more colour on your plate the better. (And no, that doesn’t include ketchup and mustard). To learn more about the importance of meal timings and composition, check out our “Health Eating Tips” blog.