Everything gives you cancer: what to do about hot dogs and bacon

Everything gives you cancer: what to do about hot dogs and bacon
Used with permission of a creative commons license. You can find the photo here

A few days ago the World Health Organization reported that they have classified bacon and sausage as carcinogens, linked to colon cancer. See the New York Times article here.

Bloomberg Business wrote about this, too, and they compiled a pretty cool interactive graphic showing all of the things that the WHO has on its list of carcinogens, ranked “definitely,” “probably,” and “possibly.” See it here.

The usual suspects are front and center. Cigarettes, ultra violet light from tanning beds, and the herbicide Roundup won’t surprise you in the “definitely” camp. But now they’re sharing time with bacon, sausage, pepperoni, and hotdogs.

It is now time to remember Joe Jackson’s “Cancer,” an upbeat little ditty from 1982.

I remember listening to it and laughing about it with my friend Betsy. About 20 years later she died of breast cancer and about 25 years later I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Betsy believed pesticides used in the corn fields of Nebraska, where she worked every summer as a kid, caused hers. And, I have little doubt that cigarettes triggered mine.

It’s important to remember when looking at the WHO classifications, that while some things have been definitely identified as carcinogenic, the toxicity of each varies greatly. Consider, for instance, that alcohol has been determined as carcinogenic, linked clearly to breast cancer. However, the amount of wine you drink is critical in determining whether or not it increases your risk. Even then, the benefits of drinking wine have to be factored into your decision about drinking.

So what do we do with this news? One thing is certain, eliminating hotdogs and bacon from your diet won’t prevent cancer. Neither will giving up smoking. All we can do is lower our risk, modify the environmental impact on our genes and cells.

You’d be a fool to keep smoking or tanning, but you’d also be a fool to think you’re safe because you’ve never done either one. About 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer have never smoked.

But what about all of the other carcinogens or possible carcinogens? If you were to take a look at the WHO classifications for definite and probable carcinogens for the purpose of reducing your risk as much as possible, you’d likely become paralyzed. Researching each component, weighing its value and risks could become a full-time job.

I’m not recommending that you ignore the WHO report. It’s smart, well-researched, and has the added impact of taking on some huge industries that profit from selling dangerous products.

Instead, I’m recommending that you take a more measured approach. Yes, quit smoking. Now. Yes, stop tanning. Now.

But think about the choices you make in terms of your whole life and in terms of empowerment. Instead of emphasizing the negatives, the things to avoid, emphasize the things you can do that will reduce your risk for cancer and improve your well-being right now.

Easy things, like exercising more, losing weight, and eating a well-balanced diet. It’s simple and straightforward, though not always easy to do these things. They may well reduce your risk for cancer and myriad other diseases, too, but they’ll also make you feel better right now.

I’m working, and not succeeding at the moment, at losing weight, but I am exercising more and, most of the time, eating better.

The easiest thing for me has been to emphasize what I can do, what is good for me. I keep a list of foods that I like and that are good for me. Maybe that sounds weird, but I forget sometimes how much I love sweet potatoes. And they’re powerhouses of vitamins.

I combine exercise with watching a television series, and I watch only as much television as the time I spend working out.

On my list of things to work on: mindful eating. This means, for me, sitting down to eat and doing nothing else at the same time, really tasting that first bite, chewing slowly, using all of my senses to enjoy my food. I love to cook, and the smell of caramelized onions, the sizzle of peppers in olive oil, the texture of an almond. All of these make the food that much better.

Finally, don’t make life so black and white. You’d have to eat a lot of bacon, hot dogs and sausages to reach the point where they were toxic to you. Truthfully, any processed food is pretty bad for you. For you carnivores out there, I know that bacon probably occupies a special spot in your hearts and stomachs. So, eat some. But don’t eat it every day or every week.

Celebrate meatless Mondays and add more plant-based foods into your diet. If you have the choice of eating an apple or Mott’s applesauce, chose the apple.

But when the urge hits, enjoy your bacon or your hot dog. Life is way too short to live with a diet that fits like a straight-jacket.

Do me a favor? Click my “like” button and join our Facebook community.

If you’d like to know first-hand when I have a new post, type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Advice, Cancer, Uncategorized

Leave a comment