To Hold or Not to Hold the Bacon?

Published: October 30, 2015

By Lisa Shepard, RD, CSO

The World Health Organization (WHO) just stated on October 26 that based on findings of some 800 studies, there has been a causal link of red meat and a very strong link of processed meats such as bacon, sausage, bologna and hot dogs to the development of certain cancers. In fact, daily consumption of as little as 1.8 ounces (50 grams ) which is the amount of a single hot dog, can result in an 18% increased risk of colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

This is really not new news. We have known about this for some time. Red meats have been linked to colon cancer before and processed meats have been found to double the ability to promote cancer.

To clarify, this link is due to a chemical reaction whereby nitrates that are used to “cure” meats cause this reaction in the body, forming carcinogens called “nitrosamines”. Nitrates help to extend shelf life, color and flavor meats. You can get many of these products “nitrate free” in many supermarkets. Remember, the shelf life will be shorter. This can help, but it’s not the entire solution. Here’s the scoop:

There is also a substance in red meat called heme iron and many of us look for iron in our diets from red meats. The problem is that it’s very unstable and may promote cancer and cardiovascular disease, particularly in the arteries . Red meats should be limited to once a week, twice at the very most. Previous recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research, were less than 18 ounces a week. In light of these findings, reductions may be wise. These recommendations include beef, lamb, and pork.

What about poultry and fish? They are better choices than red meat because they contain very small amounts of heme iron.

There are cooking techniques that can minimize potential for carcinogens that form while barbecuing and cooking all meats, poultry and fish. Check out this guide to healthy grilling.

While there is no way around the fact that animal meat is often considered a delicious source of protein and part of our cultural heritage, it is best to keep portion sizes smaller and make vegetables and beans the center of our diets.

Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • Did you know if you eat a source of vitamin C with a processed meat or fish, it can prevent the formation of these “nitrosoamines?”
  • So, if you want to have lox or bacon, enjoy it with tomato.
  • Use lots of herbs and vegetables along with barbecued and cooked meat, fish and poultry. They help provide nutritional protection and may prevent formation of these substances.
  • Have 5-9servings of fruits and vegetables daily, but strive for 8-9. A standard serving is ½ cup.
  • Eat more beans and lentils for protein. Use meats more as a side dish

The goal is not to take all the fun out of eating, but rather to be more aware. There are ways to have your bacon and eat it, too! Learn more about what is or isn’t considered processed meat.

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