October 29, 2015

If you were asked to list all the foods you have eaten over the past 12 months, do you think the list would be accurate? For most people, remembering what they ate last week (or even yesterday) presents a problem. Yet this type of ‘evidence’ forms part of what was used in this week’s World Health Organisation’s report that processed meat and red meat cause cancer.

You don’t have to go far to see media coverage of the report, or any of a number of counter-arguments, blogs and reports criticising the ‘evidence’. As one blogger, UK public health nutritionist Zoe Harcombe, said “I always wish that these huge and expensive studies would ask what colour socks the participant is wearing. I bet I could find an association between red sock wearing and one type of cancer if I looked hard enough. Would the headline be red socks cause cancer?!” More articles can be read here, here, and here.

Research starts with a hypothesis, and then researchers set out to prove the hypothesis. The ‘evidence’ may be there, but blinkered reviewing may actually miss other significant factors that could change the story completely.

What do you eat with a hot dog (saveloy)? A fluffy white bread roll and a generous squirt of sauce.

What is bacon usually eaten with? Eggs and toast.

What is luncheon meat usually eaten with? Bread.

What all the attention has only minimally acknowledged is that most people who eat processed meat also eat other foods that might not be considered healthy.

The studies examined by the WHO also revealed that those with the highest consumption of processed and red meats also had the highest incidence of other behaviours considered detrimental to health: smoking, drinking, junk foods, and inactivity.

Perhaps the key element here is not the processed meats but the other food choices, or the lifestyle, or the lack of Vitamin D from being indoors all the time? Perhaps it’s the combination that might cause the issue.

Following a diet of minimally processed (and this included meat) fresh foods, low/no alcohol, no smoking, regular exercise, good sleep, low stress and adequate safe sun exposure will minimise the risk of developing cancer of any form.

The bottom line, which has been pointed out many times, is that if you look hard enough you’ll find evidence that just about anything causes cancer. A healthy lifestyle might not prevent cancer, but it will eliminate many known risk factors. Include bacon and the like if you enjoy it, infrequently if you choose, and as always avoid taking sensationalist headlines as gospel.