The sky is falling in. Otherwise known as “bacon causes cancer”

If you’ve been on any social media platform today you’ve probably heard people ranting about bacon. Not in the traditional “I love bacon” kind of way but in the more frenzied “help the sky is falling in” kind of way. Processed meats are the new food to hate. The New York Times reports

“An international panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization concluded Monday that eating processed meat like hot dogs, ham and bacon raises the risk of colon cancer and that consuming other red meats “probably” raises the risk as well. But the increase in risk is so slight that experts said most people should not be overly worried about it.

The panel did not offer specific guidelines on red meat consumption. But its conclusions add support to recommendations made by other scientific groups like the federal government’s dietary guidelines advisory committee, which has long discouraged the consumption of red and processed meat.”

If you care to read on it also says

The report placed processed meat into its Group 1 category, which means the panel found “sufficient evidence” that it could cause cancer. While other substances in this group include alcohol, asbestos and tobacco smoke, they do not all share the same level of hazard. The risk attributed to smoking, for example, is many orders of magnitude greater than the risk associated with eating red meat, said Dr. John Ioannidis, the chairman of disease prevention at Stanford University

bacon is carcinogenicBut that won’t be the take away. The take away from today’s meat news will be that bacon causes cancer because that’s how the masses will translate it. In bite sized carcinogenic pieces. People won’t listen to their doctors or their dieticians or rely on common sense to read the full reports, they will listen to the hysteria online. Just like so many of us have done about sugar. Even smart, thinking people will be crying “eating bacon is like smoking cigarettes” just like reasonable people are shouting that all sugar is evil

The outrage over sugar is at an all time high, not because of what doctors or dieticians or even scientists say but because of celebrities who have shunned sugar and people who have followed in their footsteps shouting their approval (usually with an element of smug satisfaction). Sure the World Health Organisation has released updated guidelines encouraging people to halve their daily sugar intake but they state that it is a means of combating obesity and tooth decay. Yup obesity and tooth decay, not because it is the devil and a poison as many people would suggest. They have also not suggested that you eliminate it completely. After all the brain uses glucose to work, your body actually needs some sugars (unlike bacon – the body does not need bacon).

I’m not saying that lollies and soft drinks are good for you. Far from it. But I am surprised how quickly we quote the words of documentary film makers, bloggers and authors to cite health concerns.

The SMH reports on That Sugar Film

As propaganda, That Sugar Film is often powerfully effective, going in especially hard against soft drink manufacturers, and exposing some of the dubious claims of the health food industry (though this latter theme could have been pursued further).

What limits the film is that its central method of argument is unscientific by definition, despite the facts and figures provided by a slew of presumed experts. Simply put, Gameau’s one-man experiment is not rigorous enough to prove anything at all, however striking his results seem.

It baffles my sugar laden brain that people who shout out against anti-vaxxers because of their lack of scientific research, then claim that they know everything about sugar from a movie or a blog post. And of course the people who feel better eliminating sugar are joining the bandwagon believing that if they feel better the evidence is in, that’s all they need.

While I try to reduce added sugars for my diabetes condition (although my endocrinologist did tell me not to cut out sugar but pare back on processed carbs) I can’t understand the intense postulating and proselytising over getting people to give up sugar. More than the fact that most of the anti-sugar propaganda you are hearing comes from celebrities or blog posts, it just seems like such a first world problem. Imagine people in impoverished countries worrying about fructose. Imagine people living on the bread line thinking about processed vs organic food. Quitting sugar is expensive. And it’s a privileged person’s issue.

Plus you do have to wonder about cutting out all sugars in kids diets and if and how it will affect brain development… I don’t know about that because clearly I am not a scientist, but it does make me wonder.

I’m all for creating a bit of fear mongering around bacon, but that’s because pig farming is often a very cruel practise, not because I know anything about the carcinogens in bacon. But trust me, someone will pick up this post and derive from it that bacon is like sugar and sugar is evil therefore vegetarians shouldn’t eat sugar. Because that’s how health information seems to get passed on online.

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  1. You’re right Lana. The alarmists will cherry pick this information and run with it. Mind you I hate bacon. It makes me excessively thirsty which indicates to me that my body wants to get rid of whatever they put in it. Sugar comes from sugar cane. If you eat it in moderation it’s fine as far as I’m concerned.

  2. Hmmmm – food for thought (haha!).

    I think all the discussion around food lately is a good thing in terms of getting people thinking about what they eat, although the hysteria around it isn’t ideal. Is bacon going to kill us? I don’t know, but there are most likely a number of intricacies on that, and as a blanket statement it doesn’t really work. I do think, though, that sometimes science takes a while to catch up on the long-term effects of such things and if we listened to our bodies better then we’d be better off. Of all the hype, there is one thing that every single expert and ‘expert’ agrees on: eat more fresh, whole foods. If everyone focused on that as a starting point, the discussions might be more constructive (but not very headline worthy).

    • I completely agree with you on the eating fresh whole foods and I can’t help but wish that some of the angst and money put into the anti sugar movement was used to make it easier for more people to afford to do just that xx

  3. Urgh! I am so over the food conversation. Is it really any different to what we always knew? Eat vegetables, whole foods, fruits, grains, eat in moderation. Eat sugars, processed foods, fats, salts in lower amounts, responsibly.
    I hate that my kids, my youngest two, 10 and 7, ask ‘How much sugar is in that?’ ‘Is that healthy?’ It doesn’t come from here at home. We teach moderation and responsible eating. It comes from schools, other kids, and of course media and social media.
    I’m over it.
    Eat what you like, but be responsible about it, and understand the possible side-effects and consequences of a ‘bad’ diet.
    That is all.
    PS I love bacon.

    • I hate that kids are worrying about sugar content – I can only imagine the long term implications for body image issues :-(


  4. I like to eat bacon drizzled with maple syrup. I am also fat so should probably cut back and exercise more. Fuck.

  5. Completely agree!

    My 13yo son came grocery shopping with me this week and quizzed me on the healthiness of each item we bought (or so it felt). I taught him how to read the list of ingredients and dietary label, and he was surprised that the majority of what we bought was healthy. He was under the impression that spaghetti bolognaise (made from scratch) was unhealthy because as it’s basically just red meat and pasta!

    I don’t think he is getting this information from the school as such (apart from the food pyramid) but from what the kids at school are saying. While I admit we could always do better, I do worry about my what effect this will have on my extremely fit, sporty teenager, who needs the extra kilojoules in his diet.

    Mind you, I bought him some baby cucumbers to add to his lunch box to bulk up his veggie quota, that we both agreed was lacking somewhat, and they are still sitting in the fridge untouched … so maybe I have nothing to worry about after all 😉

    • I know what you mean. The kids at my son’s school have recently watched That Sugar Film and half of them are obsessed and the other half frightened about the amount of sugar that they have consumed. Really I think kids should not be hung up on nutritional details at this time of their development when they are becoming so aware of their bodies and their self image.

      Thankfully our ids have awesome mums which levels out the crap they hear at school 😉

  6. When I had to cut all sugars from my diet because of an enzyme problem, I was worried about eating too much red meat and eggs (because that’s about all that was left, aside from lettuce leaves). My dietician told me to forget about that – eating the red meat and eggs was what was healthy for me at that time. I don’t think being too black and white about any food – unless you have a medical problem or ethical issue – is a good thing.

  7. Oh Lana

    You mean that we aren’t to believe everything we read on the internet? Are you saying that rather than having an extreme response and swearing off bacon altogether we should just do things in moderation? Wow that would require common sense which seems to go missing in so many conversations with other people (not your readers of course!) these days. And yes I am taking the piss.

    Good god I can’t believe that someone managed to get paid to say that processed meats are bad for you. In European countries (Greece, Italy, Spain) they eat lots of cured meats and apparently their diets are great and they are healthy! Seriously let’s all take a good dose of calm the hell down and do all things in moderation unless there is a medical or ethic reason not to.

    Cathy xoxo

  8. Blah blah. It’s not that I don’t take my health (and that of my family) seriously. It’s just that all the obsessive food talk and the culture of fear around food does my head in – I don’t think THAT is healthy! All things in moderation!! Listen to your body! Eat the things that genuinely make you feel good (i.e. healthy and energised) and have less of the stuff that makes you feel like crap! Stay active. Done.

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