Bacon has more than its share of fans. Devotees swear that the rich, salty stuff makes everything from donuts to chocolate taste better, and entrepreneurs have been happy to crank out bacon-themed merchandise from soap to wallets. There's even a dating app for bacon lovers. But new research suggests that BLT might have a dark side.
The World Health Organization has just declared that processed meats and red meat do, in fact, increase your risk of cancer. We’re talking bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, beef jerky, canned meat, packaged meat sauces, as well as steak, pork, veal, and lamb.
The report published in the journal Lancet suggests that consuming 50 grams of processed meat per day (that’s less than two slices of bacon) can increase chances of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent. The WHO also reports limited evidence that the risk is almost as high (17 percent) from consuming 100 grams of red meat per day—that’s a very small 3.5-ounce steak, about the size of a deck of cards.
But before you switch to eating vegetarian, consider this: As usual, moderation is key to reducing any possible health risks, as well as being very discerning about the quality of meat you choose. It’s not necessarily the meat itself that’s causes cancer, but the chemicals used to process, smoke, or cure it—and for red meat, cooking it directly on a flame is what develops more carcinogenic compounds, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Red meat is a nutritional source of protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, and avoiding it altogether doesn’t provide optimal protection against developing cancer. Choose responsibly by shopping for organic, grass-fed meat which hasn’t been treated with hormones or antibiotics, and uncured bacon that is preserved with the natural nitrates from celery powder and sea salt rather than chemical additives. Always look at ingredients lists—if there are any indecipherable words listed, put it back on the shelf.
One other no-brainer tip: Drop those danger dogs (that’s a bacon-wrapped hot dog for those who haven’t experienced this atrocious frankenfood). If you can’t resist a BLT, feel free to indulge occasionally, because we’re not gonna lie—they taste amazing. But seriously consider limiting your meat sandwich habit as much as possible. When in doubt, there’s always seaweed that that tastes like bacon.
While minimally processed organic meats can be a healthy staple in a balanced diet, the research is clear: A diet based around plant-based whole foods delivers maximum health benefits. That's worth remembering the next time a BLT craving strikes.
Photo credit: Jen Waller via Flickr