Bacon as bad as smoking? That’s a porky

Rashers of bacon

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, bacon, sausages, processed meats and red meat all cause cancer. The report was produced by a research division of the WHO, and ranks processed meats and red meat alongside tobacco and alcohol as being carcinogenic. The report’s authors cited studies suggesting that eating an additional 100 grams of red meat a week increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 per cent. Additionally, the authors reported that 34,000 cancer-related deaths a year worldwide are directly related to a high intake of processed meat.

So how are we to process (pun intended) this new information? Should ham and cheese sausages, bacon and eggs and BBQ meats now be off the menu? Well, not quite. And here’s why.

Red meat is a wonderful source of nutrition. It is high in protein, iron, B12, zinc, and even omega-3 fatty acids. A small, but regular intake of lean meat as part of a balanced and nutritious diet can help to promote health. According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, we should be consuming three to four serves of red meat per week. However, it is important to note that one serving of red meat is 65-100 grams.

While the WHO report linked a high intake of processed meats with cancer, in particular colorectal cancer, the authors do not advocate for the total exclusion of these types of foods. You don’t need me to tell you that eating bacon at breakfast, heavily processed meats in your sandwich for lunch, and chops and snags at dinner on a regular basis is not healthy. So while it is important to exercise caution around these foods, moderating your intake holds the key for achieving optimum health. Yes, you can still enjoy a few snags at a BBQ, the occasional side of bacon with your eggs on the weekend and a ham sandwich once a week. And you can do all these things without raising your risk of developing cancer.

Nevertheless, if you’re particularly concerned about the findings of the latest WHO report, then reducing the amount of processed meat and red meat you consume is probably a good idea. Australians are, after all, amongst the biggest meat-eaters in the world. So swapping bacon for smoked salmon at breakfast, ham for tinned fish or cottage cheese sandwiches at lunch and steak and chops for chicken or fatty fish at dinner is a good start. Perhaps embracing the Meatless Monday movement, where you consume only vegetarian meals on Mondays, is another positive step towards promoting good health. Either way, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater; the message here is to exercise a wee bit of caution and to reduce your overall intake of red meat if it exceeds the Dietary Guidelines recommendations. In doing so, you might just reduce your risk of cancer.

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