Ever since the World Health Organization announced on Monday that processed meats were now going to be classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, we’ve been deluged with sensation-seeking and misleading headlines and articles by newspapers all across the country–papers desperate to attract readers to their rapidly-shrinking customer bases.
Sarah Zhang over at Wired has written one of the few pieces I’ve seen that calmly and without sensationalism explains what the WHO finding means for all of us.
In brief, if you eat a little bit of bacon each day, you increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers a little bit. If you eat a lot bacon or a lot of other processed meats each day, you increase your risk a little more. In neither case is there clear and convincing evidence that bacon or other processed meats cause the cancers in question, but they almost certainly contribute to their development.
Many people had already drawn these conclusions years ago, either because of prior news reports or because of an intuitive sense that processed meats do some damage to the body in ways not related to the development of cancer.
The WHO’s findings do not mean that people must stop eating bacon or triple-decker hamburgers this very moment, which I, for one, certainly will not do. The findings do mean that one should begin to reduce one’s intake of such products as soon as possible, which I have done already: a Bacon Ranch BLT hamburger over at the Hubcap Grill on 19th Street once a month, and a genuine steak maybe once a month or once every two months. Such meats have proteins that the body ought not to do without, but we should take them in balance with other less troublesome foods that we enjoy: fish, shellfish, green vegetables, and some variety of wheat bread.