Ah, bacon how do I love thee? Let me count the now countless ways I can enjoy your savory flavor--from desserts to dinner!
However the World Health Organization (WHO) says it's a one-sided relationship. You've heard the news: WHO released a report in October 2015 that called out bacon and its brethren--hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky, chicken nuggets, etc.--as a "Group 1" carcinogen, meaning evidence strongly links it to cancer. WHO classified red meat as a "Group 2A" carcinogen (aka foods that probably cause cancer).
"This is information we've known for a long time," says Juleeanna Andreoni, Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist at GreenField Health. "Cured meats increase the risk for colon cancer and have a connection to heart disease."
It's a valid concern, Juleeanna adds, especially for those who balance their plate with 40-50% meat on most days." The bottomline? "The evidence supports that it's not the best idea to make meat as the primary source of your food," she says.
Does this mean you have to break off the relationship with all red meat and go cold turkey?
Know the risk and eat accordingly, Juleeanna suggests. "It's all about balancing risk," she says.
Here are some tips:
- Use cured meats like bacon or prosciutto ham as a rich flavor, rather than the basis of a recipe, such as adding bacon to that clam chowder recipe.
- Variety is the spice of life, so eat red meats along with other foods throughout the week.
- Try to rebalance your plate at lunch and dinner so that 40-50% of it includes veggies and fruit. This is not meant to be a rigid rule or diet plan, but instead a flexible way of eating that is delicious. If it does not feel that way, please get support from Juleeanna or your GreenField Health clinician. Note: if you have struggled with chronic dieting or eating issues in the past, be sure to wait on all this advice until you are ready (per treatment team recommendations).
- Try eating Mediterranean style eating (the best evidence we have for how to eat with wonderful flavor and health), which emphasizes
--Taste and variety using local fresh foods whenever possible, along with sharing meals to connect with friends and family
--Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts;
--Instead of a focus on low fat, use lots of olive oil whenever possible;
--Using herbs and spices to flavor food. Most of the salt intake in US comes from canned foods, processed meats and cheese or take-out /restaurant meals.
--Assess your risks and determine what works best for your health profile and taste preferences. Juleeanna and your clinician are happy to help!
"In the large trials the eating patterns of Spain are often compared to “low fat US” style recommendations," explains Juleeanna, "and the winner is the Mediterranean diet for preventing diabetes and heart disease.
"This recommendation has the added benefit of helping to avoid the latest of the “diet” traps in the US which can make us obsessive and over-controlled with food," she adds. "A middle ground with eating is SO important."
Have more questions? Juleeanna recommends these resources:
- The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Bantam New York: 2009
- "Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat," World Health Organization, October 2015
- "Bad Day for Bacon: Processed Meats Cause Cancer, WHO Says", NPR, Oct. 29, 2015
My practice style is based on careful listening and an empathetic approach that understands eating and self-care is deeply personal for each patient.