It was a bad day for bacon lovers worldwide.
As Ari Paparo commented on Twitter, “If I have to eat my bacon 15 feet in front of the building, standing in the cold, so be it.”
While many of our other favourite foods like chocolate, wine and coffee have been found to have some health benefit, to date, bacon has been out of luck.
Last week, after a review of more than 800 studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report stating that there is sufficient evidence to classify bacon, along with other processed meats, to be carcinogenic. This means it has the potential for causing cancer under some circumstances.
Although limiting intake of processed meat has been a public health message for many years, this report was unique in that it attached numbers to the risk, reporting that each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.
To provide some reference, 50 grams is not very much: about two slices of bacon or one hot dog wiener.
The term processed meats includes meat “transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.”
This would include hotdogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky or canned meat, but would not include many deli meats such as whole-roasted turkey, chicken or beef.
So what does this mean?
The research does not prove that you will get cancer if you eat processed meats.
The relative risk of occasionally enjoying some bacon or hot dogs is quite small. However, it does suggest that you should not make processed meats an everyday choice, especially if you have a family history of colorectal cancer.
The unfortunate result of this report is that while joking about eating bacon is funny, it underscores the fact that for many people, eating processed meats is a life skills or economic reality, not a personal choice.
These findings should be used to advocate for acceptable alternative protein sources for those living on a small income or with limited cooking skills.
-Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.