Not long ago, my good friend Emma Noyes at Harvard posted an article about how scientists found that bacon is just as cancerous as cigarettes… I mean WHAT. Even though freak outs began and tears were shed, don’t worry. You can still eat bacon.
Does that picture make your mouth water? Because it makes mine. And, guess what? I am going to eat some bacon right now because it is NOT going to give me cancer.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer shows the strength of the scientific evidence that some foods, drinks, pesticides, smokable plants, or whatever contain carcinogens. What it does not consider is how much that particular substance actually increases your risk for actually getting cancer — even if it differs by magnitudes of 100.
It is true that there is strong scientific evidence linking processed meat and tobacco to cancer. This does mean that both are carcinogens (uh oh). Here’s the catch, smoking increases your relative risk of lung cancer by 2,500% and eating two slices of bacon a day increases your relative risk for colorectal cancer by 18%. Can we please look at the difference in numbers there?
Given the frequency of colorectal cancer, that means your risk of getting colorectal cancer over your life goes from about 5% to 6% and, well, YBMMV (Your Bacon Mileage May Vary). If this is the level of risk you are running your life on right now… well, then I have to say it, you really don’t have much to worry about.
“X causes cancer” does not mean that X will definitely give you cancer. It just means that X increases your risk of cancer by some amount, and it can vary wildly from a tiny, tiny percentage to a very large percentage. Does bacon cause cancer? Sure. A little. Will bacon cause cancer in you? Probably not.
So, no, you do not have to give up bacon. You are not going to get cancer. Maybe I wouldn’t recommend eating 10 pounds of bacon in one day. But go ahead and get that bacon, egg, and cheese that you thought was going to give you cancer two days ago because I know I’m going to.