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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