I was at the gym today, and I overheard the words “carcinogen” and “bacon” being used in the same sentence. My ears perked up, and I immediately joined the discussion. Just as I had suspected, two of my friends were discussing the World Health Organization study that states that eating bacon and other processed meats increases a person’s risk for developing colorectal cancer.
I joined the conversation because I wanted to make sure that bacon–a Paleo staple and my favorite food–was being defended properly. To be truthful, I have often wondered about the health effects of cured and processed meats. If it were possible, I would only feed my family non-processed proteins in the form of pork, steak, chicken, and fish. If I have these items on hand cooked and ready to serve, this is certainly my first choice. But life is busy and lunches need to be packed, and therefore processed meats enter our lives. Checking ingredients and comparing prices, I’m always trying to find the best quality meats at the cheapest price with a bit of guilt and worry tucked into my decision. So when the bacon causes cancer study came out, I wasn’t really surprised. My gut has been telling me that processed meats aren’t the best and certainly not what the Paleo people ate.
So it gave me pause but certainly not panic. I put some thought into it, and attached more to our own experience than to some numbers on paper. Bacon and processed meats have been a staple in our diet since we eliminated grains, legumes, processed sugars, and dairy over five years ago. Our way of eating has been the foundation for curing my stage 4 adrenal fatigue and Charlotte’s autism. I was able to conclude that eliminating those other foods and keeping processed meats with loads of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats had been advantageous to our health, and therefore bacon was fine for my family and me.
So if bacon is so healthy in our world, why is there a link between processed meats and cancer? Here’s my answer.
Before Charlotte was born, I followed all of the “rules” about nutrition and health. As a young adult making my own food choices, I ate a ton of low-fat chicken and whole wheat bread just as I was told. I exercised a little but not because I liked to. I avoided red meat, and I didn’t really like vegetables so I didn’t eat too many. I had a healthy first pregnancy and a healthy daughter, so I assumed I was doing everything right. Then I had Charlotte. And my health failed me. And the system failed us.
We know that over the last 20 years Americans have decreased their consumption of red meat, just like I did in my twenties. A fat phobia emerged in our culture with people like myself avoiding fat and red meat at all costs. As a result, we have increased our consumption of processed foods, sugars, and grains as we search for that elusive satiated feeling. We have more cancer, diabetes, and general illness among our population than ever before.
We have learned a lot about carcinogens. Most humans walking the planet today can tell you that cancer causing toxins lurk in our environment–our water, our water bottles, the teflon pans we cook in, the foods we produce, and in the air we breathe.
Our current approach to curing cancer seems to be using news reports and studies to inform us in an attempt to protect our bodies from our food and toxic environment, and it doesn’t seem very effective. Doesn’t it make sense to look at strengthening the body to fight off these carcinogens, rather than trying to avoid them or protect the body from them?
Recently I watched a documentary called The Truth About Cancer, and I learned a lot about cancer and the body. Knowledge is powerful and it knocked the fear of cancer right out of me. It left me educated and inspired me to continue to learn about my unique body and how it responds to our cancer causing environment. I know now how important the immune system is in defeating cancer. Just like viruses and bacteria that make us sick, cancer cells live in everyone’s body, and the immune system’s job is to stop their growth and get rid of them.
The documentary put me at ease because I know by living a Paleo lifestyle we are doing all we can to strengthen our gut health and ultimately our immune system. When we cut out sugars, grains, dairy, and processed food from our diet 5 years ago, the first sign that the diet was working were fewer illnesses and allergies for all four of us. Unlike cutting out red meat and trying to avoid environmental toxins, the Paleo diet improves immune system function. When we eat several servings a day of vegetables and fruits, we give our cells the nutrients they need to create a healthy gut lining. Supplements that we take like magnesium, collagen, beef liver pills, and probiotics promote digestion, nutrient absorption, and balanced gut flora. Short duration-high intensity movement (like CrossFit) that we enjoy doing empties any excess sugars from the cells and prevents insulin resistance.
My biggest fear about the release of this study isn’t for my own health. It’s for those who will shy away from protein sources like bacon and red meat and swing back toward grains and sugar as fuel. If we can’t eat bacon or sausage for breakfast, then what’s left? Pancakes and a syrup-like product? We know that these fuel sources promote a weaker gut lining, prevent nutrient absorption, load the cells with insulin, and down regulate the immune response. In The Truth About Cancer, I learned that cells loaded with insulin or excess sugar can’t absorb any Vitamin C. It’s nutrients like these that the body needs readily available in its immune system defense. How is this helping the body fight off cancer?
In confusing times like these, we need to look to our bodies to guide us. What are we eating and how are we moving when we feel our best? We don’t really need a study to tell us how to eat, but we can learn from it and use it to strengthen our bodies and lessen our fear. We can safely say now that bacon, hot dogs, salami, and red meat (along with many other environmental chemicals) have components that may cause more problems for a weak and sick body. On the other hand, we can safely say that in a strong and healthy body these carcinogens may not be a threat. Let’s move away from the fear, confusion, and avoidance of our environment and build a stronger body of healthy systems.
Every cell in our body contains protein so of course it makes the most sense to eat the healthiest animal protein possible. Grass fed meat, pasture raised chickens and pork give the load of nutrients we need for the system of systems which is the human body. So wherever you are in your journey toward better health and whether your bacon is pasture raised or conventional, I say go ahead and eat it, as long as it’s next to an omelette filled with bell peppers, onions, spinach, and topped with a big spoonful of avocado and not….with a bowl of cheerios and milk.