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The Fault in Our Bacon (or Why We Should Eat Less Processed Meats)

If you’re anything like me, you probably enjoy having a nice, juicy sausage or strip of bacon every now and then (and if you don’t, that’s okay, too). And there’s nothing wrong with that. Meat is, after all, a good source of iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.

But too much of anything can be a bad thing. And when it comes to processed red meats, that might be especially so, because processed meat is a carcinogen.

Now, before you panic, it’s important to understand what that word really means. Most of us associate it with the idea of promoting cancer, and while that’s technically the correct definition, it’s worth making a distinction between bacon and, say, plutonium.

After all, carcinogens are a part of every day life…to some degree. If you’re exposed to UV light — a la the sun — or walk by any place with cars or use any number of household cleaners and items, you’re making contact with a carcinogen in some way or the other. What really matters is how long and how much of that carcinogen you’re exposed to. Like I said, there’s a pretty big difference between a strip of bacon and plutonium.

To give that difference some meaning, processed meats like bacon and sausage and hot dogs are classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning they “cause cancer”, while red meats are a 2a carcinogen, meaning they “probably cause cancer.” Specifically, studies have shown that a 50g increase in bacon every day would increase your risk of cancer by about 18%.

And no, that doesn’t mean that you have an 18% chance of getting cancer if you eat bacon, but more like if 6 out of 100 people got cancer “normally” throughout their life, then a 50g increase in bacon every day would push those numbers up to about 7 out of 100.

Not exactly the end of the world but definitely a bit concerning.

I guess the point is that if you eat processed meats — or just red meats in general — make sure you practice a bit of moderation. The American Medical Association is already leading the charge on this, passing a resolution this year to serve more plant-based foods and get rid of processed meat from hospital menus altogether — and those guys tend to know what they’re doing.

Also, maybe try and balance your diet. Because while red and processed meats might promote cancer, scientists have also found that a balanced diet with plenty of veggies, fruits, whole grains, and beans actually lower your risk, too.

After all, a bit less red on your plate — and a bit more green — can only do you good.