We know that cigarettes cause cancer, so buying cigarettes is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive. We know that drinking alcohol is strongly associated with an increased risk of many cancers, so there are clear guidelines for the maximum amount of alcohol an average adult should consume per week.
So, given that the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified processed meats including ham as a Group 1 carcinogen, why are processed meats including ham, salami and bacon still sold freely in supermarkets?
Processed meats, sausages and bacon, are foods that have been enjoyed in many cultures for thousands of years and are meats that have been treated with processing techniques such as curing, fermentation, smoking or salting to extend their shelf life and increase their Flavor and texture.
Delve deeper into the science
The main health concern associated with processed meat is that it may contain compounds called N-nitroso chemicals, which can damage cells lining the intestines, leading to bowel cancer. Additionally, the nitrate preservatives used to make processed meats produce these same N-nitroso chemicals
While the science has been known for some time, and the public health stance to limit processed meat consumption is endorsed by many major public health organizations including the Cancer Council of Australia, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and Harvard University. Public health concerns remain, if this food is so potentially dangerous to us, why is it still available for human consumption?
A paper published in the Journal of Internal Medicine concluded that based on a summary of available data, there is no need for adults to reduce their current consumption of processed meat. The review, based on 61 scientific studies and more than 4 million people, concluded that "strongly anti-meat" dietary recommendations are unreasonable.
Current recommendations are for Australians to consume no more than 455g of cooked lean meat per week and to avoid processed meats such as ham entirely.
There are no specific recommendations for children, leaving parents in a tricky position, with many families relying on affordable processed meats like ham as cost-effective sandwich fillings.
It also doesn’t take into account leaner varieties of processed meats and newer varieties without added nitrates, and whether these are “safer” options that can be enjoyed more freely.
Cancer Council Nutrition recognizes that this is a complex area:
- "Nitrate-free processed meat varieties are relatively new, so the available evidence does not differentiate between processed meats that are nitrate-free and those that are not, so we recommend that people limit their intake regardless."
- “It’s important to remember that the amount of processed meat we eat increases throughout the week. It might be bacon and eggs for breakfast on the weekends, a ham sandwich for lunch, salami on pizza during the week, plus mixed items. ." Meat on a weekend grazing platter. Here processed meats are consumed more days than not.
- "It might be okay to have pizza once a week or a cooked breakfast on the weekend, but if you find you're eating it most of the day or most days of the week, it's a good idea to find ways to reduce your intake and include other alternatives. foods such as unprocessed meat, seafood, eggs, beans and vegetables, especially if there is a family history of bowel cancer.”
Balance is key
Another key point to consider is what other nutrient-dense foods the household is consuming.
Individual foods do not cause cancer on their own, but rather dietary patterns over time. In other words, overall nutritional balance is most important when it comes to health and disease risk.
This means that a diet rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and only consuming processed meat occasionally (once or twice a week) is better than a diet consisting of only a small amount of fresh food and a ham sandwich on white bread for lunch every day Much more.
This may partly explain why bowel cancer rates are not as high as in Australia, although some cultures, such as Greece or Italy, may consume processed meat more freely.
compare and contrast
Perhaps most important is understanding the risks of regularly consuming processed meat compared to the risks of other carcinogens like cigarettes. Research shows that people who eat 50 grams of processed meat a day have a 1.18 times greater risk of bowel cancer than people who eat no processed meat at all.
By comparison, in the worst-case scenario, the increased risk of bowel cancer associated with eating processed meat is less than double the risk of lifetime smoking, which increases the risk of lung cancer 50-fold.
This means it might be as simple as choosing the leanest processed meat you can find (with no added nitrates if possible) and enjoying it as a special breakfast addition once or twice a week at most, or on your favorite pizza Serve it instead of at your table. Daily sandwich filler.