The problem with processed meats

Bacon is a type of processed meat. Americans eat a tremendous amount of bacon every year despite warnings that bacon is associated with numerous diseases and health problems.
Bacon is a type of processed meat. Americans eat a tremendous amount of bacon every year despite warnings that bacon is associated with numerous diseases and health problems.

While you probably know that bacon isn't the healthiest food you can eat, you may be wondering if it's really that bad to eat occasionally. Americans eat a tremendous amount of bacon every year despite warnings that bacon is associated with numerous diseases and health problems. The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends avoiding bacon and other processed meats completely.

While eating any type of red meat has been associated with increased health risks, processed meats are even worse for your health. Processed meats aren't fresh like hamburgers or steaks. They have been preserved by curing, smoking, salting, or adding chemical preservatives. There are three chemicals in processed meat that have been linked to cancer. They include:

  • Haem, which is a red pigment that naturally occurs in most red meats
  • Nitrites and nitrates, which are preservatives used to keep processed meats fresh
  • Heterocyclic amines and polycyclic amines, which are chemical compounds that are produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures

All three of these substances can damage the cells in your bowels. The damage can build up over time and lead to cancer.

Bacon contains high amounts of saturated fat

Bacon is 40 percent saturated fat.  Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. The American Heart Association recommends you limit saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of the calories in your diet. For a 2000-calorie diet, that would equal no more than 120 calories or 13 grams of saturated fat daily. Just three slices of bacon contain almost 5 grams of saturated fat.

Saturated fat raises the "bad" cholesterol in your blood.  A study of over 114,000 people for over eight years found that eating 5% more saturated fat from meat sources was associated with a 19% increase in cardiovascular disease and a 21% increase in heart disease.

Bacon has high levels of salt

Bacon is also high in salt. Each slice contains 137 milligrams of sodium. About 90% of Americans have too much salt in their diets. Eating too much salt is associated with increased blood pressure. Developing high blood pressure is often seen as a normal part of aging in the US. However, in countries where people eat a low-salt diet, high blood pressure isn't associated with aging.

High blood pressure increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Reducing your sodium intake can help lower your blood pressure and reduce this risk.  

Salt, particularly from salt-cured meats such as bacon, may increase your risk of stomach cancer. Salt may damage your stomach lining and cause lesions that can turn into stomach cancer. Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria that can cause infections in your stomach and damage your stomach lining. Salt can worsen Helicobacter pylori infections, which can also cause stomach lesions that may turn into stomach cancer.

Chemical additives in bacon

Processed meats often have chemical preservatives.  Eating them is linked to an increased risk of developing colon and stomach cancer. The World Health Organization has classified bacon as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means it's known to cause cancer. One of the biggest risks of bacon is associated with two preservatives, nitrates and nitrites, that can form cancer-causing compounds.

In addition to increasing your risk of colon and stomach cancer, eating processed meat increases your risk of prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and dying from all types of cancer. One study suggested that women who ate even as little as a half a serving of processed meat a day had a 21% increased risk of getting breast cancer

Other risks of bacon

Eating processed meat such as bacon is also associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. A study of almost half a million people who were followed for over eight years found that eating just one serving of processed meat daily was associated with a 44% increased risk of developing all types of dementia and a 52% increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

It's believed that the nitrite in processed meat contributes to oxidative stress and inflammation, which is a risk factor for dementia. The salt in processed meat also contributes to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for developing dementia.  

QUESTION

According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 9/15/2021
References
Sources:

American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat."

American Institute for Cancer Research: "Limit Consumption of Red and Processed Meat."

Cancer Research UK: "Bacon, salami and sausages: How does processed and red meat cause cancer and how much matters?"

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Sodium."

Cognitive Vitality: "DOES EATING MEAT INCREASE DEMENTIA RISK?"

European Society of Cardiology: "Are all saturated fats equally bad for the heart?"

MD Anderson Cancer Center: "Processed meat and cancer: What you need to know."

Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine: "Processed Meat."

World Cancer Research Fund International: "Salt: shaking up the link with stomach cancer."