Is it time to banish bacon?
Today, while most people were eating their breakfasts, the World Health Organization released findings that processed meats - things like the bacon and sausage many were munching - should be classified in the same cancer-causing category as carcinogens like cigarettes.
"Eating bacon is not as bad for you as smoking," says Molly Gross, MD, a colorectal cancer specialist with University of Utah Health. "While they may be in the same category of carcinogens, that just means they are as likely to cause cancer, not that they are causing as many cancers."
In addition to the warning about processed meats, the WHO also said that red meat probably poses a cancer risk - specifically colorectal cancer. "Honestly, this is kind of old news," Gross adds. "We have known for some time about a link between excessive red meat consumption and increased cancer risk."
The WHO findings are likely getting attention because of their specificity. They assert that eating 50 grams of processed meat - think a little less than two pieces of bacon - daily can increase the risk of cancer by 18 percent. "That sounds like a big number," says Gross. "However, you have to remember that would only be among those who consume the highest amount of processed meat. Not your average bacon eater."
The findings also don't take into consideration behaviors that could offset cancer risk. "We know that a diet high in fiber may lower your risk of colon cancer," the doctor says. "Also, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding tobacco are all key."
The bottom line is that eating processed meats, as with everything else in life, is best done in moderation. "No, you don't want to eat bacon-wrapped sausage for every meal," says Gross. "But a BLT once in a while is not going to lead to an inevitable cancer diagnosis."