By Christine Carey
Should you reduce your intake of beef, lamb, bacon and sausage? According to a new study, the answer is...maybe.
A new announcement from the World Health Organisation (WHO) made news the other day when a panel of experts concluded that eating processed meats such as bacon, sausage and hot dogs can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Perhaps even more significantly, they concluded that other red meats such as beef, pork, veal, and lamb are “probably carcinogenic” as well.
Given that red meat has been at the centre of a nutritional debate for decades, why is this big news?
The panel placed processed meats in the same category of cancer risk as smoking, asbestos, and alcohol and recommended that people “moderate” their intake. Since WHO is an arm of the United Nations, their recommendations are extremely influential in shaping public health policies worldwide.
While that might sound scary, the panel was quick to caution that the increased risk of cancer was still relatively small. Just because they’re both in the “Group 1” category, tobacco and bacon are not equally dangerous. While smoking tobacco makes a person 20 times more likely to develop lung and other types of cancer, the group found that a person’s risk of colorectal cancer rises by a factor of 1.1 or 1.2 for every daily serving of processed meat.
And what does “processed” meat mean, anyway? The panel defined it as “meat transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance the flavour or improve preservation.”
The cancer risks seem to arise from chemicals used during processing as well as from carcinogens produced during cooking.
Unsurprisingly, this news has caused an uproar, especially among meat producers and proponents of a more meat-centric lifestyle.
Diets such as paleo, Atkins, and low-carb are leading in popularity, so it’s definitely noteworthy, and not to mention confusing, to see a headline that contradicts the latest health trend.
What are we to fear – meat or carbs? Are certain kinds of red meat OK? What does “moderation” mean anyway?
The world of nutrition is incredibly complex, and every day we’re confronted with a new study or conclusion that’s diametrically opposed to the one that came before it.
As founder Joshua Rosenthal of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition says, “Scientists unanimously agree that the speed of light is 670 million miles per hour and water is made of two parts hydrogen and one parts oxygen. How is it possible, then, that one expert can claim meat is essential to a healthy human body while another expert says meat is unhealthy?”
Many colleagues in the nutrition world point out that the quality of meat is a huge consideration – does your bacon contain nitrates? Is it organic and grass-fed? How much are you eating?
In the end, this is a question of bio-individuality and finding the diet that works for you. I encourage you to be an educated consumer who makes conscious shopping and eating decisions and also believe that consuming high-quality foods is essential.
This article is based on an excerpt from the IIN Blog.
• All health content in this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Christine Carey is a certified holistic life coach (www.christine-carey.com), partner at Liquid Nutrition (www.liquidnutrition.com) and director of Corporate Wellness at 242 Consulting
(www.242consulting.com). With over ten years of coaching experience, Ms Carey works with individuals and groups to assess and define their health and lifestyle goals with a strong focus on increasing knowledge and implementing tools for success.