I’m sure you’ve gotten word via text, or seen it on your Newsfeeds. Perhaps you were sent it in an email (Wait, are those are obsolete?)
Headlines abound! It seems every major news outlet has reported on the World Health Organization’s newest statements regarding bacon and other processed meats… or have they? USA Today informs that “each 50 gram portion… of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%,” while Washington Post reminds us that “the panel’s decision was not unanimous.” Still, NPR claims that processed meats are now in the “same category of cancer risk as tobacco smoking and asbestos,” which is patently false. What did the WHO actually say?
It seriously peeves me when articles do not include a link to the document they are quoting, as, you guessed it, all of the aforementioned publications have failed to provide. This is nothing short of lazy journalism, because it was the first result when I googled “IARC red meat.”
Processed meats are classified as Group 2A carcinogens, meaning they are probably carcinogenic to humans. Cisplatin falls into this group, but remains on the WHO’s List of Essential Medicines, as does Procarbazine. Both are used to treat cancer.
One step down is 2B, possibly carcinogenic to humans. Cocamide, which is in most cosmetics, shampoos, and coconut oil, is in this group. Also included are radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including those associated with wireless cellphones) and caffeic acid, found in coffee. Caffeic acid occurs in even higher levels in sage, rosemary, thyme, and spearmint.
Should we stop washing our hair, brushing our teeth, and chewing gum? Should we refrain from drinking coffee and using cellphones? Should we stop following Simon & Garfunkel’s advice on how to deliciously season soup?! No, because there are no randomized-controlled trials that prove causation for any of these compounds.
Group 1 carcinogens, on the contrary, are definitely carcinogenic to humans. In this group we find tobacco smoking and asbestos. No real surprise. Also in this group: alcohol and hormonal birth control pills, but no one is jumping out of their seats about that, now are they? If we are opposed to bacon, because it’s probably carcinogenic we should also avoid the Precious Blood, which retains its earthly properties and thus is definitely carcinogenic. Additionally, there can be no legitimate medical uses for birth control pills.
“All lies and jest. Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Processed meats include any meat with a modified shelf life, either by curing, smoking, or adding preservatives like salt. So, onto the important questions.
Should we limit our intake of processed meats?
Yes. Some of my dear friends seem to think that you can’t over-consume proteins like meat (processed or un-) because we evolved to eat them. This is true, but excess consumption is associated with numerous negative health outcomes – kidney disease, heart disesase, and type 2 diabetes to name a few.
Should we all become vegetarians?
Not necessarily. Beef, lamb, and pork with no curing could still serve as a good source of protein, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D3, omega-3 fatty acids, the list goes on.
It seems like every day, there emerges a new forbidden fruit, a new deadly compound that the natural-is-better crowd can add to their list of What Not to Eat. For them, the question of healthy food is more than a matter of expert opinion, research, or critical thinking. It is an issue of faith, where pure, healthy foods become an idol. In response, I’ll describe with but one word, those fate-sealing apples that grew on Eden’s Tree of Knowledge: organic.