• Ashlea Hartz, N.C., RYT

A Vegetarian's Defense of Bacon

Like many things in our society such as sports, politics and celebrity breakups, there tends to be a natural division as we pick sides. We begin by rooting on our team but soon that turns into shaming and blaming those on the other side. In my life I have been a meat eater as a child, but most of my adult life I have moved to a more plant based and even at times strict vegetarian or vegan diet. Now there is often a big divide between those who consume animal products and those who don't. But for me these days I fall somewhere in the middle as I still enjoy 70-90 percent of my diet in the form of plants, but do also pepper in some fish, bone broth, or other meat from time to time. because I do understand their nutritional value to my body.

So what does a someone like me think about something as controversial today as the effects of meat, and in particular bacon, on the body. Well like many thing we put in our body, it's worth a closer look before picking sides.

The 2015 headline on NPR read..."Bad Day For Bacon: Processed Red Meats Cause Cancer, WHO Says". The World Health Organization (WHO) received a mixed review on this statement, receiving a lot of heat and but also praise over the announcement. The Cattle Industry is on the defensive and Vegans everywhere cheer, but I am here to tell you the line is not that clear.

Today I am not her to tell you what to eat, that is for you to decide, I am here to make you think. Yes I want to encourage you to think a little harder and read a little deeper into the cancer causing possibilities of your favorite meats. There is a very important word in the headline above and I was not at all surprised that almost every US news outlet and Facebook friend missed it, but was happy to see the BBC got it right.  It is time to step back and not blame the food for any wrong doing, but blame the process.  The most important factor that is addressed in the WHO recommendation is that PROCESSED meats does have the ability to increase your risk of cancer. But unprocessed red meat just has a possibility to raise your risk of cancer.

So let me break this down for you in a few simple steps.

Blame the Process, Not the Bacon

Processed meats are a common staple in the Standard American Diet and includes: bacon, sausage, hot dogs, salami, beef jerky and canned meats. 

"Processed meat has been modified to either extend its shelf life or change the taste and the main methods are smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives."

The problem here is that some cooking methods do change the protein molecular structure of the meat which can cause the finished product to be damaging to our bodies. This includes smoking and overcooking meats to be well done. This is not new information and the WHO are just joining the ranks of others such as the World Cancer Research Fund who make a more profound recommendation: 

"There is strong evidence that ... processed meats are causes of bowel cancer, and that there is no amount of processed meat that can be confidently shown not to increase risk ... " World Cancer Research Fund

So if you are sourcing fresh sausage from the butcher or putting beef through a mincer it would not be considered "processed" unless it is modified further. I mean I don't think you have any Red 40 dye  or artificial flavoring laying around.  One thing that few people are talking about in this debate is the fact that most processed meats are full of these added ingredients that are carcinogenic chemicals. According to Dr. Mercola, "Particularly problematic are the nitrates that are added to these meats as a preservative, coloring and flavoring. The nitrates found in processed meats are frequently converted into nitrosamines, which are clearly associated with an increased risk of certain cancers."


Another factor to remember is that conventionally raised meats of all kinds, are damaged good before they even make it to the processing plant. Factory farm raised animals are treated poorly, sick, injected with hormones and often eat a high GMO diet. This means that the meat or dairy they produce are often filled with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides too. This I believe is a key factor in the health problems currently associated with meat products. 

Another downside to conventional meat is that it has a low level of Omega 3's which are known to be anti-inflammatory, and higher levels of omega 6's which tend to cause more inflammation. This goes back to the poor diet associated with factory farmed animals that are mainly fed corn and grains to "fatten" them instead of a natural grass grazed diet has been shown to increase the natural omega 3 levels in the meat. Inflammation plays a role in all disease which includes cancer and therefore food that can cause more inflammation in the body can increase the risk for cancer.

Keeping It Real

So what can a meat lover do? You want to keep it real. Opt for real meat, handmade products and avoid processed meats that are mass produced. So if you tend to grab the Jimmy Dean for breakfast or add bacon to your burger at you local restaurant, you might have to rethink your game plan. These are the meats that are causing the real problems with health and need to be reduced or removed from your diet. 

You may be able to enjoy your bacon or even a hot dog now and again, but it's going to take a little more effort then running to you local grocery store. Instead you need to find local butcher or farmers that are still selling the real deal.  You want real food, real meat fresh from the farm. Many small restaurants are joining the Farm to Table movement and you should too. (Or you can go out and hunt down your own. Wild game is actually one of the healthiest forms of meat you will find.) If you LOVE bacon, and this food means that much to you then you should be willing to spend more time and money to get it right. 

Too Much of a Good Thing

"For an individual, the risk of developing colon (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed," Dr Kurt Straif from the WHO said.

Like many things in our diet that are often labeled as "bad" for us, we just simply consume too much of it. The body likes balance, and too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. When it comes to meat, sugar, alcohol and the long list of things that can harm the body, the dose is often the true poison. While in most countries demand for meat is on the rise, US meat consumption has dropped off slightly in recent years. Now at 270.7 pounds per person a year, Americans still eat more meat per person than in almost any other country in the world. 

What do we eat the most of? Red meat at the sum of 70-75 pounds of red meat (beef, veal, pork, and lamb) per year for the average American. Now this is actually less red meat than the average person ate in 1970, which was up to 100lbs, but we have just switched over to more white meat to fill in the gaps. According to the Meat Institute American men on average eat 6.9 oz. of meat per day and women eat 4.4 oz. Which is well above the 3 oz recommend for healthy daily consumption.

Now if our red meat consumption is going down, but the cancer rates in America are going up what are we missing? The process. More processed meats are likely consumed now and the process includes more pesticides, chemical and hormones then before. So the best thing you can do is to reduce your consumption to reduce yoru risk. 

Prof Tim Key, from the Cancer Research UK and the University of Oxford, said: "This decision doesn't mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat, but if you eat lots of it, you may want to think about cutting down.

"Eating bacon every once in a while isn't going to do much harm - having a healthy diet is all about moderation." said Key.

How to reduce your cancer risk

  • Shop for organic or grass-fed beef and beef product. 

  • Read labels and avoid adding nitrates, colors, sugars and artificial flavors

  • Make sure the product is 100% beef, chicken, ect. 

  • Get your meat fresh from a farmer or Butcher.  (store it in the freezer if buying in Bulk)

  • Homemade! Try making your own sausage at home! Find a recipe HERE

  • Eat LESS Meat. Reduce your consumption of processed meats by using smaller portion sizes and reducing your number of servings per week. I like Michale Pollen's suggestion of 2-3 servings per WEEK. (not day) 

  • Eat more vegetables. One thing that everyone agrees on in the nutrition world is that vegetables should make up the bulk of your diet. Aim for  50-75% of your plate to be filled with plants. 

So the moral of the story is eat real food, avoided processed food when possible. Food is a sacred thing and when we disrespect it, dishonor it, deform it and destroy it, it is no longer Food. 

Please comment below if you enjoyed this article or have more questions about the topic today. 


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