Or so says USA Today on the front page, paragraph two (regarding sausage, bacon and lunchmeat). Of course they are contradicted on paragraph 8 by someone who says that “you can still occasionally have a hot dog”. The no safe level of bacon sounded fishy to me so I dug through the report (all 517 pages are here).
Cutting right to the chase, here’s what they found, the consumption of processed meat increased the risk mainly for colorectal cancer. We’ll get to the data in a second. They also found that salt caused cancer, particularly of the stomach.
First, they don’t specify what types of processed meat they mean. Mystery meat in a Swanson’s frozen dinner or Lunchables is a far cry from a slab of cured bacon. I’m not making a judgement one way or the other, but the studies don’t break it out. For making public health recommendations, this is key. (I would certainly make judgements based on taste, however). Second, look at the graph that follows this sentence:
A dose response relationship was apparent from cohort studies that measured in times/day
Due to copyright issues you’ll have to go look at figure 4.3.8 on page 123. It kind of loses it’s effect but the lines are hardly trending up (going up and down) with confidence intervals that aren’t exactly what I would call a dose-response. While you’re at it, look at the list of studies in figures, not exactly what I would call strong, although overall, it looks like you would get something. And you do, when you do a meta-analysis (that a fancy way of saying you combined the data from the studies) on the 5 studies that are able to be analysed, you get a relative risk of 1.21 (95% confidence interval 1.04-4.42) per 50 g per day. A second meta-analysis reported a 1.09 RR (95% CI 1.05-1.13) per 30 g per day. Following in the tradition of irresponsible reporting, I suggest you eat at least 20 g/day to lower your cancer risk. What? Look at the Choa 2005 study for men, it is statistically significant! Of course, it’s probably not real. After all that, I give you my take: there may be a slight risk if you eat more than 30 g/day but under that your risk should be fine.
Salt results look almost the same but for a g/day rate on stomach cancer. The dose response looks a little better.
Solution: don’t eat so much bacon and try to cut down on the salt. Hmmm…that doesn’t seem like such breaking news, does it? I think the dumbest among us knows we should be doing this anyway. Second of all, I’ll put up with a 1.2 relative risk to able to have bacon with breakfast on Saturday if that’s what it takes (although this is way under the 30g/day limit). I try not to be glib, but for a voluntary exposure, I think this is okay. Otherwise, I wouldn’t leave the house, use any power tools, share a bottle of wine with friends, eat grilled or French food, let kids explore, or walk outside barefoot. But I do, and it’s worth it.
Want to further cut down on your nitrates? Make your own sausage (it’s much better). Maybe I’ll post a recipe tomorrow.
Maybe we should stop funding studies to tell us over and over and over again what’s bad for us and start expending some effort on fixing the problems we already have. ‘Cause if I see on more study about what obesity does to your health I swear I’m gonna…