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Surprising Science

Bacon Declared a Carcinogen, World Mourns

A report by the WHO has named bacon and other processed meats as bad for you as cigarettes, alcohol, and asbestos.


Tragedy has struck the world. Reports were filing in late last week rumoring that the World Health Organization (WHO) was planning to publish a paper declaring processed meats, such as bacon and sausage, carcinogens. The rumors are true. The report is in, explaining the dangers of red and processed meats.

They write that for every 1.8-ounce portion of processed meat a person consumes a day, their risk of getting colorectal cancer increases by 18 percent.

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs program, said in an interview with The Guardian. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

This isn’t exactly news, though. Health organizations from NHS Choices to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) have been warning the public for years about the potential harm of consuming more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week, saying too much can cause bowel cancer. But processed meats are worse; even eaten in small amounts, these substances increase the risk of cancer. Specifically, once again ladies and gentlemen: bowel cancer.

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So why, why did it have to be red meat? Well, researchers explain that the compound that gives meat its color, haem, may cause damage to the lining of the bowel. For processed meats, the method by which they are made to taste so good (e.g., by smoking, and adding salt and preservatives) causes cancerous substances to form.

This means no more ham, bacon, salami, pastrami, and hot dogs, and cutting back on the burgers and sausage. Bummer. At least for those who choose to heed WHO’s warning.

The report puts bacon and other processed meats in the same category as cigarettes, alcohol, and asbestos. We’ll all mourn in our own way. For me, it will be one last bacon-wrapped chocolate… maybe two.

Dan Buettner has traveled the world, and he noticed a trend in the diets of people that keep going past the age of 100.


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