The good news and bad news about red meat…and bacon
So we made home-made burgers the other night. Neil Perry style. We used lean free-range mince, a bit of salt, olive oil, and topped the burger patty with cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato. As I chomped away, mentally congratulating myself for making a “healthier” hamburger (as opposed to, say, McDonald’s) I started wondering if this was actually true. Was my burger “healthy” or a pathway to cancer and heart disease?
I did a bit of reading, and found out that, contrary to popular belief, recent large reviews confirm that unprocessed red meat is not associated with a greatly increased risk of heart disease. Neither is saturated fat, apparently. It seems that at the most, red meat increases heart disease risk to a smaller degree than previously thought. However, the problem was that piece of bacon on top of my burger. The bacon apparently led to heart disease, cancers, and generally increased risk of death.
Now, I love bacon. I don’t have it very often, but I really do love bacon. So does my whole family. My daughter, a notoriously picky eater, could exist on bacon if we were on a desert island. As most people are, I’m a bit selective with my nutrition. I’ll eat heaps of vegetables, cut down on saturated fat, all that stuff. But when I do occasionally grill my bacon, I use the old “everything in moderation! Life is short!” adage. We also eat sausages (another favourite with the little ones, hmm…) and sometimes have pepperoni or salami on pizzas. We’ll use chorizo in paellas. I enjoy sausages at a barbecue.
Sadly, now my “ignorance is bliss” period has come to a sobering end. The party’s over. The evidence was too compelling – a substantial increase in heart disease and cancer risk is noted with processed meats. That means all that yummy stuff from delis, the convenient stuff. Ham, sausages, bacon, hot dogs. Gone. It seems that even a very small amount regularly is harmful. Experts aren’t sure exactly why, but it appears something in the processing makes the meat harmful – the salt, the added preservatives and nitrites.
The evidence is less clear with unprocessed red meat. It is still associated with bowel and other gastrointestinal cancers, especially if cooked at high heat. Apparently barbecued red meat is the worst culprit. I’m not sure about stirfries and stews or meat in a bolognaise sauce. I guess that kind of meat doesn’t turn black, which the experts say is carcinogenic. I read an article about rosemary helping to cut down the cancer risk. Certainly increasing vegetable intake is a great idea. As is eating a Mediterranean diet – lots of vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, fish, olive oil, moderation in dairy and red meat intake.
So, with a bit of sadness, I am saying goodbye to bacon. Something to be enjoyed only in a very long while. Like, once a year. Maybe on my birthday. Ham at Christmas. It’s been great but I want to live to see my grandchildren. I also want my children to be as healthy as they can be – they’ve got a lot longer on this Earth than I do from this point on. It’s ok. I love vegies and so do my kids. I love lentils. Thanks, bacon, for the good times. Dr Ee, finding the answers to health… Which unfortunately means a life without bacon. Hommous, anyone?