Today in news that shouldn’t be news: Bad food is bad for you. The public-health arm of the World Health Organization announced there is “sufficient evidence” that processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, and sausage cause colorectal cancer. Red meats like beef and lamb likely do, too. These maligned but delicious foods have been the subject of scientific scrutiny for decades, with researchers repeatedly suggesting there is a link between eating them and developing cancer. But the WHO’s announcement takes that idea a step further. It says that certain kinds definitely cause cancer, while others probably do. (Processed meat has been salted, cured, smoked, or otherwise transformed to boost flavor or preservation.)
For its report published in The Lancet Oncology, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed decades of studies on red-meat consumption and cancer risk. They found that each additional 50-gram portion (1.7 ounces) of processed meat eaten daily increased colorectal cancer risk by 18 percent in addition to “limited evidence” that eating unprocessed red meat raises risk for cancers of the bowel, pancreas, and prostate. The United States and other countries already recommend limiting red meat in any form but it’s often in the context of heart health and weight control.
Detractors (including meat-industry groups) say that cancer risk can’t be boiled down to what we eat: It’s also a matter of genetics and overall lifestyle. Even the panel admitted that the risk was small. “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr. Kurt Straif of the IARC said in a statement.
So having processed meat once in a while is not going to kill you. Please remember this as you find yourself staring down bacon-wrapped dates at upcoming holiday parties.