By now, you’ve likely heard the recent announcement from The World Health Organization regarding carcinogenic qualities in processed meats. Hot dogs, red meat, lamb and pork products, including sausage and bacon, are all part of the WHO’s findings. What does this mean for our diets and what we feed our kids? Should we stop buying hot dogs, even if it’s the only thing our preschoolers will eat? Possibly, yes. For once, the studies are not alarmist and are backed by some very scary facts. This is one we may want to take seriously.
The facts are almost as terrifying as headlines suggest, and to top it off, this is information from a highly reputable source. The WHO arrived at their conclusion after considering studies from 22 different scientists. This is not your college roommate on Facebook selling essential oils, is what I’m saying. Overall, the biggest risks come with an increase in consumption of processed and red meats. Processed meat intake is associated with elevated risk of developing colorectal cancer. Specially, more than 50 grams per day was associated with the greatest risk, which amounts to one sausage link or a strip or two of bacon. For red meat, it’s about 120 grams per day, which is about a 4oz serving of steak.
From PBS, The International Agency for Research on Cancer has added processed meats to “group 1” in their list of compounds that have “suspected, probable and definitive links to cancer.” This means it ranks as high is tobacco smoking, HPV and asbestos exposure as far as causing cancer. Red meat is “group 2A,” which includes inorganic lead.
While this all sounds very disturbing, we should still consider the factors that increase the risks. Higher levels of consumption make the biggest difference as does the method of preparing the meats (pan frying, grilling or barbecuing produce the highest levels of chemicals). That said, the amount needed to increase the risk is fairly high. While some people might be eating red meat every day, most probably don’t, especially children.
The review also notes that getting enough fiber, which means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, is “undoubtedly a protective factor.” This is because colon cancer is associated with a buildup of bile and if that bile is moving, the risk of developing cancer is lowered. A lot of these studies used people who ate more than 120 grams of processed meats daily, which could also indicate a generally unhealthy lifestyle, meaning that eating lots of meat was not necessarily the sole contributor to their developing cancer. But it was a factor of some kind, which is worthy of note.
In the past, we’ve been cautioned against soy, sugar, wheat and a whole host of other foods that might cause health issues. If you look at the list from The International Agency for Research on Cancer of things that may contribute to cancer, it also includes caffeine, printer ink and pickled vegetables along with hundreds of other items. We should consider this research, but it’s starting to feel like everything causes cancer. That said, I’m definitely going to lessen how often my kids eat these foods, but I doubt we will stop altogether. Our diets are generally healthy and I refuse to believe that a few slices of bacon a month are going to kill us. Each family needs to decide for themselves what, if any, dietary changes they will make, but overall, we should be grateful to even have this information available. Knowing how to make ourselves healthier is never a bad thing. It might be a bummer to hear that a dinner favorite in your house is even less healthy than you thought, but it’s better to know than continue in blissful ignorance.