Cut the Bacon!

By Dana Howse 
Community Dietitian

I love BACON!  In fact, I am most attracted to any menu option that includes bacon.  As a dietitian, I feel I try to limit my intake of fatty meats for myself and my family.  Recent news from WHO (World Health Organization) listed processed meat as a “Class 1” carcinogen, and has caused me to reevaluate my habits.

Yes, it is true that for years I’ve been defending my right to eat pork and beef—as long as it’s moderately consumed.  I consciously limit my breakfast meats to 1-2 times per week, but that is not necessarily so at other meal times, such as sausages used in dinner meals, pizza, hot dogs etc.  As I re-evaluate my consumption of processed and red meats it turns out that I may average 3-4 times per week.

The goal of this article is to provide you with information that will help you become better informed to potentially make a decision to cut the bacon.  We will review the report Carcinogenicity of Consumption of Red and Processed Meat from The Lancet, published October 27, 2015.  I will define “red” and “processed” meat as well as identify the carcinogenic properties.  Of course, healthy alternatives will be discussed!

1.13.2016 - MeatRed meat is considered to be unprocessed mammalian animal meat such as beef, veal, pork, lamb or goat.  When these meats are cooked at high temperatures, suspected carcinogens,such as heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are produced. barbecuing produces the most chemicals.

Processed meats are meats that have been treated by salting, smoking, curing, fermentation or other processes of preservation or enhancement.  Processed meats are not limited to red meats but may include poultry, organ meat and meat byproducts. N-nitroso-compound (NOC) and PAH are carcinogenic chemicals produced when meats are processed via above mentioned methods.

According to the Lancet report, more than 800 epidemiological studies that investigated the associations of cancer to the consumption of red meat or processed meat were assessed.  The working group concluded that there was sufficient evidence for developing colon cancer from the consumption of processed meat by humans. There was only a positive association between red meat and the development of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer.  Although, it is known that PAH and HAA causes DNA damage, there is not sufficient evidence that this occurs once meat is consumed.  Because of this assessment, red meat was categorized as a probable cause of cancer.   In short, processed meat IS carcinogenic and red meat MAY BE carcinogenic.

The scientist on this panel only reviewed current research and added red meat and processed to the list of carcinogens.  The risk for eating bacon is not as high as the risk associated with smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The panel does not suggest recommendations for consumption—further reviews and evaluations will need to take place in the future. Limiting your intake of red and processed meat is a good start to decreasing you risk for developing colorectal cancer.

Current recommendations are not available at this time, so you may want to consider eating less than your current consumption.  For instance, if you typically consume deli meat on a daily basis, perhaps you should consider limiting consumption to 3-4 times per week.  All habits should be considered and reevaluated frequently to ensure you have healthy practices.

Here is a quick list of foods you should consider limiting:

  • Deli Meat: Ham, turkey, beef, chicken, corned beef, bologna, salami, etc.
  • Hot Dogs: Pork, beef, chicken, turkey
  • Sausages: Beef, pork, chicken and turkey
  • Bacon: Pork, beef and turkey
  • Fatty unprocessed red meat, pork and poultry Including all products listed as “natural,” “uncured,” “nitrate free,” “organic,” “low sodium,” and “fat free” should also be limited.

Nitrate-free products or uncured just means that the product has no added nitrate salts, but are still cured with vegetables that are a natural source of nitrate like celery juice, extract or powder.  These alternatives can still pose a risk.  It is not recommended to eliminate vegetables that have nitrate concentrations because they generally have high concentrations of phytochemicals and Vitamin C which are known to dampen the carcinogenic risk of the nitrates.  However, there is no evidence that these alternative curing agents will also have an anti-carcinogenic effect.

Quick tips to a healthier diet:

  • Replace red and processed meat with lean, unprocessed poultry and fish most days of the week
  • Consider meat alternatives throughout the week
  • Increase fruit and vegetable options at meal times
  • Choose whole grains, especially grains high in protein like Quinoa
  • Exercise for at least 150 minutes a week

Alternatives to deli meat:

  • Bean salad with quinoa
  • Hummus with whole wheat pita bread and veggies
  • Grilled chicken breast with baby kale or arugula salad
  • Classic Peanut Butter and Jelly or bananas ( sunflower seed butter, almond butter, etc. with any fruit)

For meat-alternative starters, check out this Classic Hummus Recipe below!


My Favorite Hummus Recipe Classic Hummus

1 can of Garbanzo beans rinsed and drained

1/3 c Tahini paste

1 clove of minced garlic

3 tbsp. olive oil

Lemon juice from ½ a lemon

Salt to taste

Paprika and parsley as garnish

Mix beans, tahini paste, garlic and olive oil and lemon juice in a blender.  Puree until smooth.  You can add warm water 1 tbsp at a time until you reached your desired consistency. Salt to taste and garnish with paprika, parsley and olive oil if you like.



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