With so many conflicting views on nutrition and the long-term health effects of different foods, it can be hard to identify which foods are good for you and which foods have the potential to bring you to an early grave. Unfortunately, it seems that one of America’s most beloved foods has come under heavy scrutiny as the World Health Organization declares bacon (and all processed meats) carcinogenic. In other words, there is a strong link between eating processed meat and getting cancer—colon, stomach, and pancreatic cancers in particular. So does this mean that you have to give up bacon forever in order to live a long and healthy life? Not necessarily, but there are some considerations you should make before indulging in your next full breakfast or bacon cheeseburger.
What’s the problem with processed meat?
To understand why processed meat is so bad for you, it is important to define what processed meat is. Processed meat is any type of meat that has been cured, fermented, smoked, or otherwise processed to enhance its flavor or increase its shelf life. Aside from bacon, this group of foods includes favorites such as sausage, jerky, cold cuts, and any barbecue fare. During treatments like curing and smoking, certain chemical compounds form in the meat, leading to its carcinogenic effects. Research has indicated that plain old red meat can have similar problems when it is exposed to heat for cooking. However, red meat has a lower risk classification than processed meat, which is now considered about as dangerous as air pollution and certain forms of radiation.
Can you still eat bacon and be healthy?
The tragic irony of bacon is that the very process that makes it taste so good also makes it incredibly unhealthy. Still, one thing you should remember is that foods that will drive up your risk for cancer will not necessarily give you cancer. While this should not be justification to eat bacon and other processed meats in excess, it is an indication that you can indulge from time-to-time without significant health risks. When you consume a diet that is primarily centered on wholesome choices like nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, sustainable fish and seafood, whole grains, and good fats, your body will be able to fight off the damage of the occasional slice of bacon.
How can you curb your craving for bacon?
If you find yourself constantly craving bacon once you cut down, you might consider the flavor notes that contribute to the distinctive aroma of bacon itself. Bacon is made through a process of thinly slicing fatty pork belly, salt curing the meat, and smoking it for several hours before the meat is ready to fry up for breakfast. In this process, a wide array of complex amino acids and other flavor compounds develop to contribute to the slightly sweet, salty, umami flavor that bacon is known for. While you may not find a single food to substitute these exact flavor notes, you might explore foods that offer equally complex flavor compounds without the nutritional downside. Dark chocolate, for example, gets some of its fruity and caramel notes from the same reaction that takes place in bacon as cocoa beans are roasted, so you might opt to treat yourself to chocolate as you break-up with bacon.