I’ve been reading a lot of this:
“Eating bacon is as dangerous as smoking!”
“Red meat increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent!”
“Everything gives you cancer, so you may as well eat anything you want, anytime you want!”
So will eating bacon and red meat give you cancer?
I’m going to attempt to clear up some of the confusion and mop up the damage done by passionate, yet sloppy, journalism:
The World Health Organization (WHO? (that’s what I asked, too)) has stated that processed red meat – stuff like bacon, hot dogs, salami – has been classified as a “Group 1” carcinogen, meaning there is good evidence to show that it causes cancer in humans. Cigarettes are also a Group 1 carcinogen, which is prompting all the hysteria.
A Group 1 rating tells us how sure we are that something causes cancer, but it doesn’t tell us how strong the risk is. Cancer Research UK illustrates this by urging us to consider a banana peel. “They definitely can cause accidents, but in practice this doesn’t happen very often […]. And the sort of harm you can come to from slipping on a banana skin isn’t generally as severe as, say, being in a car accident.”
Ok, so how strong is the RISK of cancer from eating processed and/or red meat?
Well the researchers found that eating 50 grams of processed red meat daily increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18% (and 17% for 100 grams of unprocessed red meat, like hamburger or steak).
OH CRAP, you say, CAN I FREAK OUT?!?!?!
Not yet. Let’s put it into perspective. Smoking increases your risk of developing lung cancer by 2500%, but eating 2 slices of bacon EVERY SINGLE DAY increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. So your lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer goes from about 5.0% to 5.6%.
Also, it’s important to note that the report didn’t distinguish between eating organic pastured bacon and other processed meat (like Ballpark hot dogs). Nor did it differentiate between grass fed vs. factory farmed meat. Factory farmed meat has been shown to contain fewer healthy omega 3 fats, but more dangerous bacteria, including bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics – which increases your risk of food poisoning.
Red meat is a great source of tons of important nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, zinc and protein. And you’d have to eat 4 1/2 pounds of carrots to get the same amount of vitamin A contained in 3 oz. of beef liver.
Takeaway: Relax. You can happily – and healthfully – eat red meat a few times a week that has come from lambs, pigs, and cows that have been humanely raised on their natural diet (usually this means grass-fed) and not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Avoid spam. Enjoy a few slices of bacon every now and again. And again.
As for the oft-quoted sentiment that “Everything gives you cancer, so you may as well eat anything you want, anytime you want!”
Well…women who say they eat anything they want, anytime they want have a 28% increase of developing colorectal cancer in their lifetime. Now why isn’t the media freaking out about THAT? :P
You can read the original Lancet article that started all this here.