Scared to eat bacon after the WHO report on processed meat? Mark Menolascino, MD, might be able to turn that frown upside down.

The WHO dropped a bomb by listing bacon and processed meats as carcinogenic. The ether lit up with the predictable banter between vegetarians and meat eaters and, as is so common in our polarized world, neither side got it right.

The report released by the WHO International Agency for Cancer Research included 22 experts from 10 countries reviewing 800 studies looking for relationships of processed meat and cancer.  They defined processed meat to include meats that have added chemicals to improve flavor or to preserve the meat. The results were compelling enough that the WHO listed bacon, ham and sausage as carcinogenic.  Less than 2 slices of bacon (50 grams per day or just under 2 ounces) increases your risk of colon cancer by 18%.

We have long known in Functional Medicine that these meats have several compounds related to farming methods and processing that have been linked to cancer, diabetes and hormone disruption. But they sure are tasty. Bacon has an irresistible smell and many of my vegetarian clients admit they will ‘cheat’ on bacon only – they cant resist it.

I have bacon in my freezer right now, not factory farmed, but raised on an organic farm with no antibiotics and hormones that ate real food, not processed pig food. Industrialized pig food can contain antibiotics, arsenicals, hormones, rendered meat parts leftover from the slaughter of other animals, byproducts of drug manufacture and the fisheries industry, meal made from hair, bones and feathers and even feces from other animals (yeah, someone decided feeding animals feces a good way to recycle protein, but at least they heat it up first to kill bacteria).

dreamstime_xs_52813370And that’s not even the most cancer-causing part of the process. It’s after we slaughter the animals that we really fill them with carcinogens. To preserve flavor and appeal as well as extend shelf life, industrial meat processing uses nitrites, nitrates and tyramine, which are known carcinogens as well as sulfites, (a chemical to which many people have sensitivities). These are the likely culprits that caused the WHO to list processed meats as carcinogenic, not the pig.

These chemicals were not used in the processing of the bacon in my freezer. Instead, it is dry cured after being hand rubbed with a mixture of natural herbs that don’t raise the nitrate levels in the meats as can happen with other curing methods. This farm-raised bacon is immediately apparent through cooking. Factory-raised bacon looks good in the package but shrinks down to half the size when you cook it.  The organic farm raised bacon shows little change on cooking.

Properly raised and processed pork, eaten in moderate amounts is not bad for you and is not likely the part of the food that will cause cancer. The fat in pork may actually be good for you with sources of vitamin E, vitamin D and phosphatidylcholine which is important for your brain and nervous system for protection. There is, however, a quality in bacon that makes matters worse: bacon has a monounsaturated type of fat that holds hormones and toxins extremely well – just like humans do. A good way to look at it is that whatever the pig eats, we eat.

It doesn’t stop with the pigs. Red meat is not included in the cancer data, but the WHO lists it as questionable.  If I were to put money on it, I’d bet that we will soon see red meat listed as a carcinogen, and it will not be the protein of red meat that is the problem, but the hormones and antibiotics and what we feed factory raised cows that cause problems for the humans who consume these animals. I’d also bet that if farm-raised, herb-seasoned, dry-cured bacon were used in the studies that were reviewed to come up with the conclusion that bacon causes cancer, the results would not have shown bacon to be a carcinogen.

Probably the most sensible news on the subject this week came from Cancer Research UK who said the report was a reason to reduce processed and red meat consumption. Like so many issues around food, the key is not to be anti-this or pro-that but to look at the source of the food in question and how much of it you eat. Bacon is a source of cholesterol and too much is not good for you.  Too little may not be good for you either because you need cholesterol to make all of your cells.   The bottom line is this: it’s not the meat, it’s what we put in the meat through farming methods and processing that causes cancer.

Just thinking about it so much is making me hungry. Farm-raised, real food fed, herb-seasoned and dry-cured bacon for breakfast tomorrow…

This article that I wrote was originally published in The Good Men Project.

About Dr. Mark:

Dr. Mark Menolascino helps people with Internal, Holistic, Hormone and Anti-Aging Medicine. His goal is to achieve optimal vitality and solve complex health issues by applying his diverse training and experience to the unique physiology of the individual.