The World Health Organization has dropped a truth bomb on meat lovers and protein paramours all over the world.
Today, the organization finally released a study outlining “sufficient evidence” that there is a direct link between colorectal cancer, otherwise known as colon cancer, and eating processed meat. They followed this up by saying they also have “limited evidence” that red meat is a cancer-causing agent as well. For those of you who may be concerned that the study is not legitimate, the World Health Organization took a look at over 800 studies from around the globe on the subject before releasing their recommendations.
Basically, they told us what many have suspected for a while.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to most people who already attempt to follow somewhat of a healthy lifestyle or diet plan. Most healthy eating guideline programs and diets do everything from discouraging processed meat (think the Paleo diet or The Zone diet) whereas stricter programs such as Whole30 forbid them from your diet completely.
For the sake of the study, the World Health Organization classifies processed meat as “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking and other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal or meat by-products such as blood.”
Also for the sake of the study, red meat is classified as “any mammalian muscle meat including beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat meat.
So, does that mean I should dump all of the hamburger meat out of my fridge and skip the hotdogs next time I’m at a baseball game? The answer is yes and no.
Breaking it Down: Red Meat vs. Processed Meat
It has long been known that pork and beef were less healthy alternatives to what I refer to as the paler meats – chicken, turkey, fish and the like. These foods are lower in fat and higher in protein and should make up the bulk of your diet. However, with that being said, red meat still has a place – a very limited place – in your diet as well. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, red meat is an important of iron which is especially important for women’s health. Red meat is also an important source of zinc, which is essential to men and their reproductive processes. However, they still recommend choosing leaner cuts of red meat and restricting servings to no more than one to two times per week.
According to an article that CNNMoney published today, the World Health Organization is also not advising to cut out red meat completely. Their article states, “The report outlined that simply eating 50 grams of processed meat each day — the equivalent of two slices of ham — can increase the risk of such cancer by 18 percent. However, the authors say the risks are relatively small to begin with.”
Although the authors may say the risks of developing cancer from consuming processed meat are relatively small, they are also now placing processed meat in the same category as asbestos and cigarettes because of their absolute certainty that exposure to or consuming them increases cancer risks.
So, it may not be time to throw the steaks to the dogs and to toss out your leftover porkchops. However, you should be careful with the cuts of meat you are choosing and always opt to prepare them by grilling or baking them as opposed to frying them. Although the occasional burger night is fine, red meat servings should truly be limited to no more than twice a week with servings approximately the size of your fist. This way, you can still enjoy the red meat that you know and love without putting your body at risk.
But What About My Salami?
For all the Joey Tribbianis of the world, I hate to disappoint, but processed meat (like Joey’s favorite, salami) is another story all together. If you take your health seriously, relatively low risk of cancer or not, eating a food that falls in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos is just not good for your health.
This means that most lunchmeats – including chicken breast and turkey breast if they’re processed — but also pastrami, salami, bologna and roast beef, hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, canned or potted meat, ham, pepperoni, low quality or low meat content burgers and beef jerky should truly be eliminated from your diet all together in order to optimize your health.
But What About Bacon?
The true victims of this tragedy are the bacon lovers. For those of you who use bacon as an on the go snack or a post-workout protein, the jury is in and unfortunately, it’s not in your favor.
However, if you absolutely must have bacon, try sticking to the type of bacon allowed while following the Whole30 program. With Whole30, bacon is only allowed when it is pure and unprocessed. This means you probably won’t be able to waltz into your local supermarket and buy bacon that comes in a package or that’s advertised by a singing weenie.
In fact, to ensure your bacon is as unprocessed as possible and that it definitely doesn’t have any added sugar, your best bet is to purchase it from a local source such as a butcher or at a local meat market. But once again, this is only if you absolutely cannot bear to remove bacon from your diet altogether.
So all in all, for all my meat loving friends, stick to what you know best. Chicken strips make a better and more filling post-workout snack anyway and eggs are a much healthier “breakfast-y” protein. Eat fish four times a week, stock up on turkey breasts whenever they’re on sale, and avoid sedentary lifestyles, smoking and hotdogs like the plague.