Meat Is the New… Tobacco?!
If you were listening carefully to last week’s big announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO) you may have heard something else; a collective groan from parents everywhere. Including me. It’s not like I thought hot dogs were a health food, but… seriously? My daughter’s turkey sandwich is giving her colon cancer?
My mom instincts told me to clean out the deli drawer in my fridge and banish Friday’s pizza night. (Foregoing a night of no cooking and dishes?! This has got to be serious.)
But the nutritionist in me had to pause. Was serving bacon with breakfast really the same as passing my 6 year old a cigarette and telling him to ‘light up’?
In true food-nerd fashion, I went to the press release and Q&A that got this whole thing started. Turns out the press I was hearing was about as inflated as a deli window sausage. So, let me offer the nutritionist/parent/“person who eats normal food” (me) low-down on two common meat-shattering statements you’ve probably heard lately.
Or as the WHO themselves put it, “No.”
Processed meats earned a spot in the same classification as smoking and asbestos for causing cancer because of the strength of evidence. NOT because they pose the same risk.
In fact, the WHO is careful to say the increased risk for cancer from eating processed meat is very small. Need some perspective? Consider the risk of cancer from smoking is about 30 times greater than eating a lot of processed meat.
“Strong evidence” sounds like proof. But it’s not.
The WHO admits it’s not clear how processed meats cause cancer. In examining over 800 studies they concluded that people who eat more processed meats have a greater risk for certain cancers. But pointing the finger at a single category of food is tricky, if not impossible. People who eat more processed meats may have other commonalities that put them at risk for cancer such as a sedentary lifestyle, occupation, or a diet low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Some compounds in processed meats make them good suspects for causing cancer, but the research just isn’t there to lock them away yet.
Eating processed meats isn’t signing up for colorectal cancer. But it’s a good reminder that more fresh foods and fewer processed stuff is a good idea. Stuff you’ve heard for the last 20 years (like here, here, and here).
So go ahead. Eat that Christmas salami.
Enjoy a juicy foot-long at a baseball game!
Pack a turkey, avocado, and bacon sandwich for lunch!
And for heaven’s sake, hang on to pizza night.