cookingPerhaps lost amid the loud argument sparked by a recent report saying processed meats cause cancer is the quiet truth that most of us would benefit from eating better.

Experts convened by the World Health Organization reviewed more than 800 epidemiological studies and concluded that there is “sufficient evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of processed meat,” such as bacon, sausage, and jerky.

Providing input were 22 experts from 10 countries, and their work is the largest and most conclusive study linking cancer with processed meat.

After the study appeared in late October in the medical journal The Lancet, website editors more interested in click bait than medical science ran the news under alarming headlines like “Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes.”

Cattle interests from Australia to Texas responded with howls over the comparison with tobacco, and the WHO was forced to clarify that it wasn’t suggesting zero tolerance for hot dogs.

A statement from the group, which is the leading United Nations health agency, said the review “does not ask people to stop eating processed meats, but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.”

The spirited debate provided a lot of heat but little illumination for those looking sort out sound dietary guidelines from baloney. Still, over many studies over many years, beef consumption has been linked to many ailments, including obesity, heart problems, and Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Much remains to be learned, but there is consensus among nutrition experts that overall health would improve if vegetables, fruits and nuts made up a bigger share of the average diet,” said Dr. Kate Zhong, senior director of clinical research and development for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. “That is part of the reason we stress a Mediterranean-style diet as one of the Six Pillars of Brain Health in our Healthy Brains Initiative.”

Medical experts say the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, promotes good health, in part, because it cuts back on the saturated fats found in meat.


The Lancet (registration required)



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