Dangerous foods have been a hot topic lately.
And gosh people are upset. How dare the WHO (World Health Organization) scapegoat popular foods. Did you know that bacon has its own page on Facebook with 6 million likes and growing? True story. And now they’re saying that bacon, along with ham, sausage, hot dogs, salami, and even red meat are potentially carcinogenic So that brings up an important question. Should you worry if you’re a bacon lover? Is there really such a thing as dangerous foods?
At the end of the day, most foods fall into one of two categories. They are either nourishing or depleting. A nourishing food contains vitamins, minerals, fiber antioxidants or phytonutrients. It is probably a good source of fat, carbohydrates or protein. Conversely, a depleting food is nutritiously empty, meaning that it uses more nutrients to be digested by the body than it actually contains. When eaten too often, these foods decimate the body’s vitamin and mineral reserves. Or they offer some nutrients but also contain toxins, bad fats or other carcinogenic ingredients that can alter healthy cells and organs in the body.
Keep in mind, foods aren’t the only things that can have a depleting effect on the body. Pollution, body products, and fake estrogen found in plastic are just a few examples of things which also can be depleting to the body.
So this brings us back to the subject of dangerous foods.
Should you really give up a food you love because WHO labels it as bad?
And are you putting yourself in similar disease risk pool as smokers if you choose to keep eating them? And what about those centenarians who insist that their straight diet of cigarettes, lard and Cheetos is what got them to their ripe old age? Don’t they prove that disease really just comes down to luck?
Keep a couple things in mind. Just because two things are potentially carcinogenic, doesn’t mean they are so to the same degree.
For instance, cigarettes and nuclear radiation are both carcinogens and are both clearly not health promoting. However, I think we can all agree that smoking one cigarette and being exposed one time to nuclear radiation don’t measure quite the same. So just because eating processed meat and smoking are both classified as carcinogenic doesn’t mean that they create the same risk. Second, whether or not a carcinogen mutates your DNA to potentially create disease has to do with your genetics. So just because someone lives to a ripe old age puffing on cigarettes doesn’t mean others won’t cut their lives short living a similar existence. And while our families give us an idea of our genetics, they don’t guarantee the cards we were personally dealt. Banking on sharing your ancestors good health can be a bit of a gamble.
So that brings us back to dangerous foods.
My opinion is that these so-called dangerous foods DO have a place in a healthy diet.
However, there is one thing to keep in mind. When you look at making room for favorite indulgences, everything else you eat during the day matters.
Remember the conversation we just had about nourishing versus depleting foods? At least 85% of the foods we eat during the day should be nourishing. When you consume a high level of nourishing foods, the body has a high reserve of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. These nutrients help the body process smaller amounts of foods that are less than ideal.
So the reason that processed meats are such dangerous foods for many people is that many of us are eating a diet that is almost entirely empty and depleting. And with this kind of diet, the body loses its reserve of the nutrients that help detoxify carcinogens. And as this goes on for years, the body can be worn down, leading to a state of disease.
So, the bottom line is that you can eat these so-called dangerous foods. But, I would like to add a few important caveats.
- Processed meats should be a very small part of the diet. They shouldn’t be an everyday thing. They should be an occasional treat.
- You should eat more fruits and vegetables than you think you should to build your nutrient reserves
- You need to limit all of your depleting foods (sugar, refined carbohydrates, cereals, granola, cheese, fried foods, bottled sauces, ketchup, salsas, salad dressings and other condiments with hidden sugar etc.) These foods, along with processed meats shouldn’t compose more than 15% of the diet.
Doing so won’t just lower your chance of getting cancer. It will help you feel better as you age. Even those of hearty genetic stock start to become depleted on a cellular level when eating too many unhealthy foods. So while they might not get sick, they won’t feel quite as vibrant, energetic and spirited as they would otherwise.
So take the news about dangerous foods with a grain of salt. There is room for a small amount of any food in most healthy people’s diets. But you need to look at the big picture when you’re evaluating where these foods will fit into your own health profile.
Maha Hudson says
My husband is a big fan of bacon. BIG FAN! So, in our journey of being healthy to grow our family, we both committed to plan and take a serious look at the food we eat. Just like you said, at the end of the day, we need to make a decision whether the food we eat is nourishing or depleting. Thanks for keeping us our toes.
I have a lot of family members who are bacon fans too. Good for the two of you in wanting to make positive adjustments for your health.
Thanks Erica – this is timely information for me. I won’t go into all the details other than to say it backs up my claims against my son’s doctor. She told him to start eating more bacon, sausages, etc. while I want him to gain healthy weight. We’ll see who wins so thanks for the ammo.
Yes, I would be very concerned about a doctor recommending frequent consumption of sausage and bacon. However, we need to keep in mind that doctors only take one class in nutrition so they really aren’t experts on that topic.
Patricia Weber says
It’s always the same cycle Erica: one year it’s a problem, wait 3 to 5 years and it’s not. Our government and their partners in health crime are insane. I think – if it’s truly NOT poisonous/harmful to you or your loved ones, apply the moderation rule. You said, “take the news about dangerous foods with a grain of salt.” — and I do! Most timely, thanks.
Patricia, I would definitely say from the copious studies finding fault in processed meat mean this is more than a flash in the pan. Though I do think the recent news is a bit exaggerated. I think people need to be taught how to limit a food and eat in moderation. Villifying a food just makes people feel more panicked but doesn’t necessarily lead to change.
Donna Janke says
Very timely post as I’ve heard a lot about processed meats in the news this week. I agree they should be a small part of the diet, but that doesn’t mean one needs to avoid them completely. Although I must admit the less I have of them, the less appealing they become.
I’ve discouraging my husband from eating processed meats for quite a few years. He now eats them occasionally which is just fine. The thing that amazes me though is that the less he eats them, the less he craves them.
Personally believe meat is bad for your health. Having said that, I eat meat including processed meats a few times a year. Why be a fanatic and refuse to eat meat of all kinds. Once in a while is absolutely fine. But people who eat meat on a daily basis should have a look at changing their eating habits.
Everything is about balance with diet. I’m glad you’ve found a balance that works for you.
Ken Dowell says
A very even-handed and believable take on the debate over processed meats. From reading your blog every week I was hoping you’d weigh in on the subject since I consider you a trustworthy expert.
Yes! After seeing how upset people were from their posts on Facebook, I really felt I needed to chime in. Thanks for considering me a trustworthy expert!
I stopped eating pork over ten years ago for very good reason. Once I considered that pigs will eat just about anything and carried out research, I decided that was it!
It is a sweet meat and I understand why people crave it but it is not for me.
I very rarely eat fry ups as along with pork I do not eat eggs.
I’ve never heard of a fry up, but it definitely seems like something you can do without. Unless you are allergic to eggs, they are healthy. I wouldn’t avoid them unless you dislike them, have an extreme cholesterol problem or they don’t make you feel good.
Sabrina Quairoli says
Thanks for sharing this timely post. I agree with your comments. I feel that everything should be in moderation. A treat here in there is OK. But, when you eat several times throughout the day, it’s time to see if it has become an addiction.
Yes, moderation is a realistic goal. Finding balance allows you to eat some treats while making most of your day health promoting.
Marquita Herald says
Thank you for bringing a bit of common sense to this conversation Erica! To be honest I very rarely eat processed meats (though I will admit every now and then to real craving for Hebrew National Hot Dogs of all things) so for me it really is about the whole sky is falling effect that so often accompanies one of these revelations. I crack up every time I see a new study on coffee, it’s good for you – it’s bad for you, drink more – no wait, drink less. Please! As you’ve pointed out, and others here have said, it’s really about moderation and that’s what I try to go by in pretty much everything in life.
Yes, I felt like it was important to bring focus to the fact that processed meats are very depleting and should only compose a small part of your total protein intake. But by taking it to the extreme and putting them in the same category as cigarettes, I think they alienated people who would have been willing to make changes if the news weren’t so extreme.
Pamela Chollet says
I can’t believe I made it though my 20’s without a heart attack. I don’t know what constitutes an item to be labeled as a, “food”. But whatever it is, those Student Union machine sandwiches, wouldn’t qualify. What’s happened to me after years of eating clean is , I’ve completely lost my taste for packaged foods. I buy nitrate free wheneverI can and uncured turkey bacon, which is actually better tasting. BUT, I do love fried calamari, cheese and Italian cheesecake! Balance is the key. You have a great approach to food Erica.
Pamela, I ate a lot of processed meats myself in high school. I didn’t even like them but that is what my cafeteria offered. That is why it is important to eat healthy as we get older so we can lighten the load of what we did to our bodies in our younger days!
Becky @ Disney in your Day says
Thank you so much for this realistic look at the topic. I feel like so many people are either “I’m giving up processed meats completely and you should too!” Or “I love bacon and I’ll never stop eating it!” I do think there is a happy medium.
I feel like a lot of people who love bacon felt threatened by the news and just rejected it. It is important for people to realize that there can be a compromise in moderation.
Susan Cooper says
I too have heard and read all the news about processed foods. on the outside it is scary stuff indeed. As you mentioned, I also understand that it would take a large quantity to offer up any danger. I don’t think that my few slices of bacon every so often will be an issue in the long run. Just my thoughts. 🙂
What I like to stress is that it is the total of everything you eat that makes the final impression on your health. If you have just a small amount of a variety of different depleting foods, your entire diet will be depleting. If you have a small amount of one depleting food balanced with lots of healthy foods, it isn’t so bad. Thanks for contributing your thoughts!
This is such a great point. So many people today are “all or nothing”, but it really all just comes down to moderation.
Yes, all or nothing rarely ever works.
The Southern Thing says
I needed this reminder today. Lately I’ve been wanted to make bacon more often than I should, so thanks for the tips!
Glad this helped as a reminder. Bacon is best when it is reserved as an occasional treat.
Krystyna Lagowski says
Thank you for this post, Erica, and I think you made some excellent points. I believe the key to all of this is moderation, a little of anything every now and then can’t hurt. As it is, I can only have bacon if I’m at a restaurant – if I fry it up at home, my cats go bananas and won’t stop howling until they get their share!
Too funny. Krystyna, I’m like that with chocolate. My dog once got a dark chocolate bar that my husband had bought and set aside. We spent the night at the vet emergency room pumping her stomach. That is when I said, “No more chocolate in the house!”
GiGi Eats says
I believe processed garbage like bacons and sliced deli meats full of nitrates and what not should be eliminated from everyone’s diets… However, saying “processed” is far too much of an umbrella term because when you think about it – ALL MEAT is processed…
The problem is that if you give people an all or nothing ultimatum, the majority of them will choose all over nothing. It is better to teach moderation and get people to transition their diet in a more nourishing direction.
I’m reminded of this famous Michael Pollan quote: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I do love bacon, but it’s definitely a sometime food. My dad used to eat something like eight slices a day, but finally cut back. All good things in moderation applies to so much in life 😉
There’s always a new boogeyman and miracle cure, so I appreciate your nonsense-free approach to the matter.
Meredith @ The Palette Muse says
Erica, I was afraid to read this because I thought you were going to tell me to give up bacon. Thank you for not doing that! I don’t eat much processed food, but having a bite of bacon every now and then makes the world go ’round. All things in moderation and balance, right?
Beth Niebuhr says
Really? A sensible post on dangerous foods? I applaud you. I like the 85/15% guideline. And I love your “eat more fruits and vegetables than you think you should” advice.
Perfect timing post Erica! I love processed meat so much lol. To me it comes down to moderation. Thank you so much for this realistic post.Sharing it to friends and family.
I think everything is good in moderation. ..Everything lately is a health thread. But i really think that it all comes down to over indulging.