According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) processed meats have been classified as a Class 1 Carcinogen. News stories are quick to point out that asbestos and tobacco are also Class 1 carcinogens. You might like to know that other things in that list include sunlight, birth control, alcohol, and hormone therapy. Red meat was classified as a Class 2A, along with working as a hairdresser and grilled food. The IARC has looked at hundreds of items and only one has made the ‘not carcinogenic’ category. Furthermore, just because a substance is in the same classification as tobacco and asbestos, it doesn’t mean that its relationship to cancer is as strong as those substances.
I’m not telling you this because I want you to spend the rest of your life eating bland food in the dark; I just want you to know that the sky is not falling.
I’m not ‘that kind of doctor,’ but I know that cancer is a very complicated disease. Everyone wants to find that one silver-bullet prevention, but it’s just not out there. Genetics, exercise, medicine, whether or not you’ve had a baby, and diet can all affect your cancer risk.
Processed meats are important
The ingredients and processes used to make hotdogs and bacon and sausage are about more than creating tasty treats to eat at tailgates. Processed meats help us to use meat more efficiently, waste less food and feed more people.
Processed meats allow us to use the whole animal. There are lots of cuts on the animal that wouldn’t taste very good if we just tried to cook them like fresh meat. They may be too tough, too small, or too fatty. Meat processors grind them up and mix them all together to make sausages and hotdogs.
Processed meats allow us to store meat for longer times. Ingredients like salt, sugar, and nitrites help fend off bacteria that cause it to go bad. They also keep it from becoming rancid. Think about how long hotdogs and ham last in the fridge in comparison to fresh steaks and burgers.
Processed meats are a good source of inexpensive protein. Foods like hotdogs and sausages are inexpensive, but they provide protein. People need that protein, especially kids. Protein helps you feel fuller, longer after a meal. It also helps build and repair muscles as kids grow. Research has shown that kids fed protein perform better in school. In some poor families, processed meats are the only way they can afford to feed their kids protein.
Processed meats help prevent food-borne illness. Ingredients like salt and lactates help keep dangerous bacteria, like Listeria, from growing, and nitrites are added to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes Botulism.
There is lots of good information circulating today about the benefits of processed meats and the complicated issues around this new classification.
I really like this interview from CBS News this morning, looking at this study in the real world.
So, think about the benefits of processed meats. Enjoy them.