The World Health Organization announced new causes of cancer today, officially including processed meats and potentially including red meat on the list
Bacon is delicious. It's so tasty that you can now buy bacon popcorn, bacon Band-Aids, bacon toothpaste, bacon gum, and even bacon-flavored baby formula. Well, prepare yourself, devotees: Eating processed meats like hot dogs, cold cuts, ham, sausage, and—you guessed it—bacon can officially cause cancer, according to an announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO). What's more, the WHO has also placed red meat (beef, pork, lamb) in an alarming category one level down from processed meats as foods that are "probably" carcinogenic to humans.
The announcement isn't a total surprise. "For years, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has been recommending that individuals reduce the amount of beef, pork, lamb, and other red meats in their diets and avoid processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs," AICR's Vice-President of Research Susan Higginbotham R.D., Ph.D. said in the official press release today. (Learn which other Bad Habits Increase Your Risk for Cancer.)
And research has indeed been showing a connection between red and manufactured meats and various types of cancers for years. A massive study in BMC Medicine, for example, linked processed meat consumption not just with cancer but also with early death. In fact, after analyzing over 26,000 mortalities, the researchers determined that eating just two sausages a day upped a person's risk of dying by 44 percent—yikes!
"A diet rich in processed meat is energy-rich and nutrient-poor, and is associated with the development of the disabilities and diseases of modern civilization," says Mike Fenster, M.D., an interventional cardiologist, chef, and author of The Fallacy of the Calorie: Why the Modern Western Diet is Killing Us and How to Stop It. "This includes cancer but also obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune diseases, and many other conditions associated with continuous chronic low level inflammation."
How bacon and hot dogs raise your risk of cancer is still being studied, but the AIRC has identified four major factors: the preservatives used, such as nitrites and nitrates; Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, a toxic substance formed by smoking meats; heterocyclic amines, which are formed by cooking meat at a high heat and have been shown to damage DNA; and the heme iron found in red meat, which can damage the lining of the colon. (Surprised that's in your diet? Make sure you're also skipping these 14 Banned Foods Still Allowed in the U.S.)
Not only are you filling your body with toxic substances by eating processed meat, but you're also consuming calories that would otherwise go to fresh fruits and vegetables, depriving yourself of the nutrients and fiber proven to help fight cancer, Fenster adds.
Worried what to whip up for dinner now that ham is out of the question? Try one of these 15 Vegetarian Recipes Even Meat-Eaters Will Love.