On Eating to Live Instead of Living to Eat

Processed meat is a carcinogen.

Did you know that?

The announcement was issued in 2015 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is a World Health Organization (WHO) group. Even though it’s old news, I had never heard this message. I first discovered it after watching What the Health on Netflix a couple of weeks ago.

Q: What’s a carcinogen?

A: A carcinogen is a substance capable of changing the DNA of your cells, thereby causing cancer.

It’s important to note that What the Health gets some of its facts wrong, but here is the most important fact that the documentary gets right:

Processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, and deli meat have been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen.

Other Group 1 carcinogens include cigarettes and asbestos. However, it’s important to know that the Class 1 designation is not a reflection on how likely you are to get cancer from a substance. Instead, it indicates the strength of the scientific evidence about the substance being carcinogenic. To demonstrate this, it is helpful to know that there are an estimated 1 million deaths per year from smoking compared to 34,000 deaths annually due to high consumption of processed meats. That being said, processed meats have been proven to cause colorectal cancer and I sure wouldn’t want to be one of the 34,000 people who die from that this year.

Q: What is a Group 1 carcinogen?

A: To be designated a Group 1 carcinogen, there must be convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer based on epidemiological studies in exposed humans.

So, how risky is it to consume processed meat?

As a bacon lover, I desperately needed to know the answer to this question. I’m sad to say that the answer is terrifying. For every 50 grams of processed meat that you eat daily, you are increasing your risk of colorectal cancer by approximately 18%.

Q: How much is 50 grams?

A: 50 grams is equal to 0.11 pounds.

It’s probably too late to do anything about it now, right?

Not necessarily. What the Health promotes research that shows that you can cure cancer by eating a vegan diet. Many nutritionists and epidemiologists who were not featured in the documentary have agreed with or conducted studies that support this hypothesis. That’s right, a vegan diet can help your body’s cells heal and reverse the effects of carcinogens.

Q: What do vegans eat?

A: Vegans eat a plant-based diet. This means that vegans do not eat meat or animal byproducts such as cheese and milk.

It’s no coincidence that studies supporting this information are highly contested by lobbyists (did you know that people are lobbying about what information we receive about our food?), in part because companies like Tyson (the world’s second-largest processor of pork, beef, and chicken) are sponsors of the organizations that are supposed to make our health their primary concern – organizations like the American Cancer Society. It is very interesting that organizations like the ACS have articles buried in their archives about the topic of processed meat being classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, but then choose not to feature this information in the Eat Healthy and Be Active section, which is a subset of their Reduce Your Cancer Risk section.

Vegan? Seriously?

Yes. Vegan. Seriously.

Give it a try for a month and see how you do. You can suffer through anything for a month, right?

For someone like me (or perhaps someone like you), who was raised on meat and dairy and loves both, veganism is truly an experiment in eating to live instead of living to eat. Will you join me in trying it out? After all, it’s got to better than colorectal cancer, right?

 

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This post was inspired by today’s daily prompt: Coincidence

References:

What You Should Know About the Pro-Vegan Netflix Film ‘What the Health’

WHO: Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat

A Cure For Cancer? Eating A Plant-Based Diet

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18 Replies to “On Eating to Live Instead of Living to Eat”

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I agree with your first and last sentences for the most part. However, veganism was around long before our habit of eating meat was. As such, it’s not that we created a solution (vegan diet), we’re just going back to what we did before we created the problem (eating meat).

      Cheers,
      Robin

      1. Not sure eating meat is the problem. Processed meat is the problem.
        Just like with meat, humans have contaminated all food sources with pesticides and genetic engineering.
        Nothing has the nutritional value it once did.

    1. Thanks for asking! According to the Department of Education, “processed meat is defined as any meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives; examples include bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs or processed deli or luncheon meats.” Here’s a link to their guide on processed meats: http://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/nutrition/criteria-guides.pdf. This message is reiterated in the archives of the American Cancer Society at https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer.html.

  1. You know, I’ve been toying with the idea of changing over to a vegan diet for years. I’ve tried eating a purely vegetarian diet before, and I found it extremely difficult to get enough protein in my diet. Of course, at the time I was lifting a lot of weights, and when you’re a weight lifter it always feels like you are living to eat!

    Still, I feel like it is still an issue with meat free diets. I will whole-heartedly admit that when I eat meat I feel the difference in my stomach. There are just so many different delicious ways to prepare meat! I’m from a small backroad town in Texas, so you know we grew up on BBQ and all the animal products you can shake a stick at. Rewiring a brain to look at food differently is no easy feat.

    I will agree with you that changing the way we eat and rewiring our brain definitely sounds like a better time than getting colorectal cancer. It’s not only difficult to change your own mind about what you put in your body, but you also have to contend with others’ habits too. I noticed that when I was doing my vegetarian thing, it seemed like every function I went to served every entrée imaginable with meat in it. I found it unbelievably hard to go anywhere where I wasn’t forced to eat scraps because everything contained meat. You can see why that didn’t last too long.

    Anyways, times have changed for me and my mindset is quite a bit different. I’d be interested to find out if you were able to commit a month to being vegan. Are you going to give it a shot, fellow bacon lover?

    1. Thanks for commenting!

      I grew up in Plano, TX for several years, so I know exactly what you are talking about.

      I have spent the last 3 weeks trying to be vegan. With the exception of one slip-up, I have successfully been vegetarian, but have only been about 60-70% successful at being vegan. There just seems to be dairy or egg in just about everything these days! I’m lucky that there is a really good vegan restaurant near my work, which helps.

      I’m still committed to becoming a vegan, but I think it will take a few months for me to get there. There are so many words that indicate that something has animal by-products in it that I’m unfamiliar with. And the fact that I’m already gluten free doesn’t make it any easier.

      I just ordered a vegan, gluten free crockpot book, so I’m hoping to try some of those recipes out this fall.

      I’ll let you know how it goes and would love it if you’d keep me up to date if you try to go for it again!

      Cheers,
      Robin

      1. I know exactly where Plano, Texas is! What a small world. I’m from a small town called Comfort, TX…about 30 min from San Antonio.

        Anyways, I’m also Gluten free so I know how hard even that can be let alone adding more restrictions to it. We’ve got a lot of meat in the freezer but as soon as that is gone I’m planning on not getting any more for myself at least.

        Sometimes it basically feels like any food that has ever been touched by man’s hands is to be avoided at all cost.

        I feel like once you figure it out, it can easily become habitual, but figuring out some sort of gluten free/animal free diet is the mountain that has to be overcome in the first place.

        I wish you he best of luck in your endeavor! I’d love to know how he diet makes you feel? Any significant difference? I’ll let ya know when I’m finally animal free!

      2. Small world! So far I am doing a really good job of being a “weekday vegetarian”, but I do keep getting distracted by BBQs on the weekend.

        As far as feeling different – If I eat vegan for 3+ days in a row and then I eat dairy or meat, I notice a big difference in a negative way. I’m starting to realize that feeling that way is not worth the momentary deliciousness of meat or dairy. If I can get to 30 days straight then I think the new habit might stick. I live in New England now, so it will be easier to stick to in the winter when we all go into hibernation and the outdoor gatherings stop.

        Good luck on your endeavor, too! I’d love it if you’d follow up and let me know if you notice a difference down the road 🙂

      3. So I’ve officially said goodbye to meat. I’ve been a vegetarian before and dairy has always upset my stomach somewhat so the transition isn’t too hard. Dairy is the tricky one for me though because I feel like there’s some sort of dairy in EVERYTHING. I can already feel a lightness in my stomach without all the meat weighing me down. I’m hoping to see an increase in energy levels shortly. Anyway, best of luck to you!
        You know what’s funny? When I’m an omnivore, I feel like vegetarians/vegans are everywhere telling me not to eat meat. When I’m a vegetarian/vegan I feel like they all disappear and everyone is suddenly looking at me strangely because I don’t eat meat! Just can’t win for losing these days.

  2. Thanks for noticing my post, “Feelings About Feelings.” I have to confess I’m unlikely to go vegan any time soon (never say never), but my strategy for change around eating habits is, first fill up on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other healthy foods. That way you have less room for unhealthy ones. Many people fail at dietary changes due to feeling deprived. This is a way to start the change process by going toward a good, rather than away from a bad. Gotta start somewhere!

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