I don’t know anyone who hasn’t heard this news by now. But with New Year’s resolutions in full swing, and so many people vowing to eat healthier in 2016, I thought it was important to address the latest attack on red meat.
Last fall, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), made this declaration heard ’round the world.
They brazenly added processed meats such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs, and cold cuts to their list of “group 1 carcinogens.” Just to clarify — these foods are now in the same category as tobacco, asbestos, and plutonium.
As you can imagine, this announcement caused quite a frenzy. In fact, there was such an onslaught of Internet traffic following this news, it actually crashed the IARC’s website.
The problem is, these “alarmist” public health messages never explain what they mean.
The IARC estimated that for every 50 grams of processed meat (about 2 pieces of bacon) eaten on a daily basis, the risk of developing colorectal cancer increased approximately 18%. They also concluded f that for those that ate 100 grams of red meat (a few slices of beef, pork, or lamb) on a daily basis, these people “could probably” increase their risk for colorectal cancer by 17%.
What the IARC fails to do with this declaration is offer any real-world risk assessment. What is the real danger here? “Probably” and “could” just don’t explain anything.
And I don’t know how much weight this warning should really carry, considering the WHO currently has a list that’s nearing 900+ items of “probable” or “possible” carcinogens. They’ve declared things like eggs, tomatoes, aloe vera, and coffee to be health hazards. (All of which have proven health benefits, by the way. Just like red meat.)
In fact, in the last 45 years, they’ve found only one substance that supposedly doesn’t cause cancer — and it’s a nylon chemical found in yoga pants.
The responsible thing to do would be to look at different scenarios in the real world. Did the researchers consider that those people who are getting cancer from eating processed or red meats may also be heavy smokers? Or maybe they’re eating lots of processed sugary foods and are obese to begin with?
After this announcement came out, I heard a news anchor say that eating a sausage is as unhealthy for you as smoking or asbestos. That’s just nonsense.
According to the Global Disease Burden Project 2012, “over 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to high processed meat intake vs. 1 million deaths per year attributable to tobacco smoke.”
To put this in perspective, smoking increases your relative risk of lung cancer by 2,500%! While eating 50 grams of processed meat a day adds 18% to your relative risk of colorectal cancer. In terms of absolute risk, that’s your chances going from five out of 100 to six out of 100. So let’s not get crazy.
The fact is, not one single food has ever been shown to cause cancer because we don’t eat anything in isolation.
There are so many other factors that come into play, and it’s unfair to put the blame on meat alone.
But one thing to consider is the type of meat you’re eating.
When we stuff cows full of genetically modified grain with a side of pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, and antibiotics — it changes the composition of their meat. It changes the fat content and the fatty acid composition. And not for the better, either.
And isn’t it a little ironic that the types of cancers (breast, uterine, ovarian, prostate) that have the strongest correlation with animal products are hormonal ones?
On the other hand, when we feed cows the food that they were meant to eat — grass — the composition of their meat is loaded with 10 essential nutrients, including zinc, B vitamins, and iron. And organic, grass-fed beef is the only natural source of one important cancer-fighting nutrient called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
So now, with all of the facts on the table, I’m going to stand by my long-time recommendation to include high-quality, organic, grass-fed red meat in your diet on a regular basis. And while I don’t recommend eating bacon, sausage, and hot dogs at every meal, moderate amounts shouldn’t pose any major health risks. Especially if you opt for nitrate-free, organic versions.
If you really want to make a dietary change that will protect you from cancer — and transform your health in general — cut out sugar. It’s, by far, a bigger hazard than bacon could ever dream of being.