One slice of bacon a day might kill you

Add processed meats to the list of things you’re not supposed to eat.  A huge new study finds that even a slice of bacon a day will increase your risk of dying, significantly.

John wrote about the problems with eating fish the other day (mercury, ycch).  I responded by writing a post about the perils of red meat.

Well, now processed meats, such as bacon, sausage or bologna, is bad for you too (not that that’s much of a surprise).  For bacon and sausage lovers, this new study is all bad news. Even small amounts on a daily basis are linked to a significant increase in deaths from cancer and heart disease.

We’re talking one slice of bacon a day is enough for dire consequences.

Whether it’s the nitrates or the fat or the salt in those products, they need to be eaten with caution. It’s impossible to make good sausage without a shocking amount of fat, and of course there will be plenty of salt too.

I went and found the study, and quote the conclusion below. And keep in mind, as NPR noted, and I fact-checked it myself, that when the study is talking about “high consumption of processed meat,” they’re talking about 20g of processed meat, such as bacon, a day.  And how much is 20g of bacon a day?  One slice.  Maybe one and a half.

Bacon via Shutterstock

Bacon via Shutterstock

The results of our analyses suggest that men and women with a high consumption of processed meat are at increased risk of early death, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases but also to cancer. In this population, reduction of processed meat consumption to less than 20 g/day would prevent more than 3% of all deaths. As processed meat consumption is a modifiable risk factor, health promotion activities should include specific advice on lowering processed meat consumption.

Again, that “high consumption” is a piece of bacon.

Another interesting finding from the study was that, in contrast to studies done in the US, the Europeans didn’t find the same death-correlation with red meat generally that they found with processed meats, such as salami, bologna and bacon:

In contrast to the US results, we observed a consistent association between processed meat consumption and total mortality but not between red meat consumption and total mortality. Processed meats such as sausages, salami and bacon have a higher content of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol than fresh red meat; the latter is often consumed after removing the visible fat tissue, whereas the proportion of fat in sausages often reaches 50% of the weight or even more. Both high saturated fat and cholesterol intake have been found to be related to the risk of coronary heart disease [2]. Also, processed meat is treated by salting, curing, or smoking in order to improve the durability of the food and/or to improve color and taste. These processes, however, lead to an increased intake of carcinogens or their precursors (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic aromatic amines, nitrosamines) or to a high intake of specific compounds possibly enhancing the development of carcinogenic processes (for example, nitrite).

Even sadder, the study leader, Sabine Rohrmann, says to limit your overall meat intake, not just processed meat, to a little over a pound a week, max:

Rohrmann is sympathetic. “My recommendation is to limit meat intake, in particular processed meat intake,” she told The Salt via email. “However, we know that meat is rich in some vitamins and minerals and, thus, my recommendation is to limit the [total] amount of meat to about 300 to 600 grams a week.”

That’s a little over a pound, at the upper limit.

I’d be curious if she includes chicken (doubtful) or pork in the “meat” category.  I suspect she means “red meat,” as that’s where the concern is usefully focused.

As someone who loves to cook and loves to eat, it’s frustrating to read these studies. “Everything in moderation” is the answer for me, though adding more fruit and vegetables – organic when I can afford them (to avoid the chemicals on the skins) – is probably the best course of action.

Damn you, curly-haired child — damn you to hell:


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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  • vwchong

    Look, if bacon is healthy with all the fats, cholesterol and chemicals, then pretty much any kind of pork meat is healthy. isn’t it. Then in relative terms, bacon is still the least healthy among all the kinds of pork meat. Isn’t it? Otherwise, tell me which kind of pork meat is worst than bacon?

  • Xam

    “In this population, reduction of processed meat consumption to less than 20 g/day would prevent more than 3% of all deaths.”
    Bacon is healthier than most processed meats & 3% is literally statistically insignificant. Nice job with the scare tactics for the title of this article, next time maybe you can scream fire in a crowded theatre just to get a few more hits on your blog.

  • Dev Mohanty

    ashton kutcher did the fruits and nuts diet for the steve jobs movie… he was hospitalized.

  • Milo M.

    You know, I’ve experienced that “just finishing it” feeling, too. With steak and burgers. I think you’re on to something.

  • Food is good for you

    Or you can just disregard all these media whores and just eat. Meat, veggies, fruits, nuts…these are called foods..it’s what human beings eat. Dont listen to all these nonsense articles.

  • richard wilson

    I will suggest to keep exercising and walking a mile daily will keep you away form heart disease. This is the info I got form http://www.phvc.sg/diabetic-heart-disease.html and I find it great and correct.

  • richard wilson

    I think we will have to avoid processed meat as much as possible to stay safe from heart disease.

  • Sweetie

    Actually, that would be entropy.

  • Sweetie

    And now milk is going to be laced with aspartame, a sweetener linked to increased obesity.

  • http://twitter.com/BillFromDover Bill from Dover

    “Gonna enjoy what I can…”

    For how long?

    BTW, I’ve pretty much said “Fuck it” myself. After all, how many of us can grow our own food.

    Hell, Monsanto now controlls the majority of vegetable seeds.

    Gone are the days when ya could dry out and save some green bean seeds for the next planting season…. at least without being sued by an agriculture conglomerate.

    Jesus Christ in a corn cob, vegetarians now have it as bad as us carnivores.

  • http://twitter.com/BillFromDover Bill from Dover

    There is always a choice all-natural mercury-laden fish?

  • http://twitter.com/BillFromDover Bill from Dover

    Didja see where the corn industry tried to get corn fructose relabeled as sugar, because of the bad connotation associated with the their product?

    For the time being, they lost, but don’t hold your sugar bowl.

  • http://twitter.com/BillFromDover Bill from Dover

    Your job, Freday, should you choose accept it, is to point out all the sublimation monster faces airbrushed in the bacon strips.

    I found at least 6.

  • Indigo

    Watery yogurt mixed with 1/4 teaspoon homemade masala. It eases the hunger pains and leaves a delightful flavor in your mouth.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Bread is made from grain. Plus there’s the whole ‘gluten is bad’ thing going on now.

    As for the water, it’s being polluted from fracking and other toxic chemicals.

  • eahopp

    Bread and water?

  • VJBinCT

    Gather ye bacon bits while ye may.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    And what about that ‘meat glue’ they make out of parts to create faux sirloins?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    What about range free chicken at Christian summer camps.?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Oh I know—the moral/ethical dilemma—-I guess we have to stop handing out tissues full of ciggy butts to the kiddies at Halloween.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “I can rely on Americablog for a good and totally specious reason to hide under the bed pissing myself.” Can we watch?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “And to this day, people avoid fat” So true! A year after my thyroid went out my fair weather friends avoid me.You are spot on about packaging. If it says ‘no fat’ it means jumbo sugar and salt.’ If it says ‘no sugar’ it means corn fructose. Real whole milk is better than 2% or skim or low fat for that reason. Better eating through chemistry has made us a jumbo skin-tag nation..

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    ” am not gonna give up bacon, I will just die young and leave a fabulous looking crepe!

  • cminca

    Life without bacon–you may last longer, but it will feel like an eternity…..

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Is there anything left on the “okay to eat” list?

    All forms of animal protein seem to be off the list at this point. Same with most forms of grain and vegetables due to GMO and pesticides. Soy apparently mucks with the endocrine system. Are fruit and nuts okay, or did I miss some story about them going GMO or concentrating toxins? How about cheese?

    I’m honestly asking: We see story after story now about foods that “might kill us”, with nothing to offset it on the “yes, eat this, it’s really good for you” side.

  • http://voenixrising.com/ Mark Alexander

    Oh. No. We. Are. All. Going. To. Die.

  • dula

    I’ve found that when I am able to avoid addicting flours, sugars, and other high carb content foods which mask my true appetite, I am able to get in touch with what my body wants and how much. That’s how I deal with conflicting scientific info on food. Go with your gut. I am surprised though that some people love to eat the slimy grizzle of animal fats without feeling greasy and lethargic. I like bacon, but the crunchy part in the middle, not the white, fatty part. As a child, whenever we had pork chops, I would punch out the leaner center part for myself and my father would eat the grizzly fatty parts left behind. He died of heart disease, and I’m going strong at the age of 87. ‘Holla.

  • Naja pallida

    Of course, bacon means different things depending on where you go. Bacon in the US tends to be the fattiest bits of belly meat. In the UK, bacon is often mostly made of the leaner part of the loin. Then in some cases you get the processed meat bits that get reformed into something that visibly looks like what we traditionally recognize as bacon. Which do you think is more healthy? :)

  • Naja pallida

    Turkey bacon is more heavily processed than regular bacon. Since it’s made from chopped and reformed meat bits. It may be much less fat, which is good, but I can’t see how it would be a significant improvement overall. I’m sure it is on par with reformed sandwich meats.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I think that’s a fair point – oftentimes it seems as if every decision we make limits our lifespan. I do think however that eating bacon is a pretty obvious problem. I love bacon, but I was under no illusions even before this study came out that it was one of the better things to eat, and in fact, I already knew it was bad for you. Now I know HOW bad and I will probably be even a bit more careful. Some things are worse for you than others, and this seems pretty bad, per the study.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    Probabilities again; your “better chance of an early death” is positive but small. Seeing long chemical names that end in “-ate” or “-ide” causes people’s brains to shut down. Fortunately the actual dangers of chemicals are not a matter of “belief”, as seems to be the case with you, but can be objectively studied. Not that I approve of stuff like IT’S A SPIDER KILL IT KILL IT WITH FIRE (I like spiders) but the toxicity of pyrethrins is known to be low.

  • nicho

    You’re right. I’ve taken to not ordering steaks any more when I eat out. Even the smallest steak is at least twice a normal serving. When you get up to the “16 oz. sirloin,” you’re now eating four servings of meat at once.

  • nicho

    Let’s set the Wayback Machine for the 1970s. The government did a study on diet and nutrition. Their initial findings were that eating meat — especially in the quantities Americans eat it — was bad for you and that people needed to drastically cut their intake of meat.

    Enter the meat lobby — Oprah showed us what happens when you piss off the meat lobby. The meat lobby started calling, visiting, threatening, etc. all their bought-and-paid-for members of Congress to suppress the study.

    Since the study had already been done, they needed to report some results. So they took out the part about meat and said instead that fat is bad for you. It really isn’t as bad as they said, but they had to say something. And to this day, people avoid fat — which in normal quantities isn’t at all harmful.

    This took the heat off the meat industry, but also launched the low-fat, no-fat craze, which has made the agrifood business richer than they ever dreamed. But also ended up making Americans even fatter and sicker. How do you peddle low-fat products? You add sugar, tons and tons of sugar. It’s called Entenmann’s. People were wolfing down a whole box of “fat-free” chocolate chip cookies, taking in enough sugar to stun a large ox, but thinking that they were “eating healthy” because there was no fat.

  • condew

    I find that about 90% of the enjoyment is in the first bite. Now I always order the smallest steak when I’m in the mood for steak. The first couple bites are a joy, and for the rest I’m just finishing it.

    I love Costco, but boy does it encourage me to eat too much of things I love but shouldn’t have in quantity.

    So demand those deadly foods be prepared properly for maximum enjoyment, and then take one breakfast link or one strip of bacon. Fill up on something healthier.

  • johnjsmith2

    And what about uncured bacon? Free range heirloom breed pork? Wild pig/boar- which is increasing in the wild? If it’s just the processing, then lets reduce the processing and chemicals.

  • HeartlandLiberal

    Just to toss in one serious note in this context. I suspect that far more Americans will die from the exposure to the toxic chemicals they spew into and on their house, everything from the cleansers, to the powerful insecticides, all of which I firmly believe are one of the direct causes of the increasing cancer rates in this country. We casually douse our houses to make sure we never see an itty bitty spider, and do not think twice about the potential deadly effects. We included massive amounts of phosphates in our lawn fertilizers for decades, because we wanted those pretty green lawns. Finally, we are having to phase them out, because the massive runoff was totally poisoning our lakes and streams. Same principle.

    Years ago some company had an advertising, ‘Better life through chemicals’. Well, that might be better rewritten as ‘Better chances of early death through exposure to chemicals.’

    Need I also mention the poisons leeching out of the plastic in water bottles?

  • condew

    Reminds me of my buddy who was beside himself that he could not keep his diabetes under control. He died of mad cow.

    Really, moderation in all things unless you know what’s killing you, and even then, do you really know?

    My neighbor was dieing of emphysema. No point giving up smoking at that point.

    Enjoy the bacon, in moderation. It probably won’t be what kills you.

  • sunmusing

    Ohhh, this is not good, the “bacon log” I have been planning to BBQ is causing me to rethink the menu…ok thought about it….Start the fire…we gonna burn us a BACON lovers wet dream…darn this snow storm…my grill is calling me….

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    I see it as a matter of probabilities. Eating meat or whatnot may increase the probability of an earlier death but the probability is still small. Trouble is, small probabilities loom large in persons’ minds. Everyone fears dying of drinking coffee or contracting some rare disease far more than they fear getting into a fatal motor accident. Similarly the tiny decrease in the probability of death effected by some trendy thing such as antioxidants or omega-3 fatty acids is trumped up into some sort of lifesaving panacea.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    No, I asked about the doctor, not the study. The study also said that unprocessed red meat wasn’t a problem. But the doctor said to avoid all meat. Thus my question as to what constitutes meat in terms of her specific warning.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It’s a huge study with stunning results. I’m not convinced its any more specious than the argument for ignoring it :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    Incidentally I’ve wondered a bit about how ersatz bacons are flavored, especially if they’re supposed to be vegetarian. Surely they’re not just using some sort of essence of real bacon, which wouldn’t be vegetarian? Or is it just “liquid smoke”? Or something totally synthetic?

    I’m trying to eat vegetarian (not entirely succesfully) but I’ve been avoiding processed foodstuffs of the “Tofurkey” type. They’re expensive and frankly they feel a bit like cheating. I have been trying to make my own substitutes in a small way; fake burger patties are easily fabricated although their physical properties are inferior to commercial products I admit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ed.cummings.14 Ed Cummings

    OK so where does that leave people whom eat only turkey bacon?

  • HolyMoly

    I’ve been eating turkey bacon a lot lately, which actually tastes pretty good. Once in a blue moon I HAVE to get myself some real bacon, though, like once every couple of months. As good as turkey bacon tastes (to me), it’s still no match for the real deal. For all I know, the fake stuff could be just as bad if it is smoked (based on what I read in your article). Maybe it’s just artificial smoke flavoring, I don’t know. Anyone know if artificial smoke flavoring is hazardous to your health?

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    Seriously. That’s not to say there aren’t problems with our food supply today. There are big issues. But, this reminds me of turning on the evening news when they tell you what in your house is going to kill you, or how you’re getting cancer and don’t know it yet. My Jamaican friend once said “I do not plan on living forever” and I agree. Gonna enjoy what I can but won’t live in fear and avoid everything.

  • A_nonymoose

    “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country . . . er, bacon.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    “I’d be curious if she includes chicken (doubtful) or pork in the ‘meat’ category.”

    This is directly addressed in the paper, which specifies “white meat” as a separate category. This category includes poultry. This was found:

    “Poultry consumption was not consistently associated with deaths from any of these causes.”

    Pork is explicitly placed in the “red meat” category.

  • silas1898

    Sounds like this “study” was done by the Chick-Fil-A cows.
    Eet mor chiken!

    Eat what you like and die happy!

  • HeartlandLiberal

    I am sitting here reading this while eating two hot dogs with slaw and onions, made with Amish country chicken sausages, from here in Indiana, which promise me there are no nitrites and nitrates in the product. Let me assure you: they are DELICIOUS.

    As for bacon, we try to limit our intake, but that still means three or four times a month. The local natural food store here at one location has Saturday morning breakfast bar. You select all you want, pile it in a cardboard container. They charge by weight. What I think they did not foresee is me and my wife filling a small box with JUST BACON, and getting several meals and sandwiches out of it. At least the bacon is probably not as filled with poisons as usual, since the store emphasizes natural products.

    It is hard to give up bacon. Bacon is as powerful in its hold on human beings as sex.

  • Freday63

    I am not gonna give up bacon, I will just die young and leave a fabulous looking corpse!

  • http://www.mikedoughney.com/ MikeDoughney

    Once again, I can rely on Americablog for a good and totally specious reason to hide under the bed pissing myself.

    You can’t believe everything you read on the net, m’kay?

    Off to the kitchen to fix my daily serving of bacon and eggs.

  • kingstonbears

    Now, just where did I leave Julia’s recipe for Bernaise Sauce?

  • Indigo

    The most certain cause of death is birth.

  • unrepentant_expat

    My only regret is that I only have but one life to give for my appetite.

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