Is Bacon Bad for your Health?
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
This month, red meat once again made headline news after a new study reported that eating cured meats such as bacon, sausages and luncheon meats, increased the risk of developing a lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The research, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, set out to see whether frequently eating cured meats increased the risk of COPD and impaired lung function.
The study included more than 7,000 adults over the age of 45. The researchers divided the participants into groups depending on their consumption of cured meat.
There were five groups:
- Those who didn’t eat cured meats
- Those who ate 1-2 servings a month
- Those who ate 3-4 servings per month
- Those who ate 5-13 servings per month
- Those who ate more than 14 servings per month.
Compared to those subjects who ate no cured meats, those eating 14 or more servings a month were found to be almost twice as likely to develop COPD.
However, those people who ate the most cured meats were also more likely to smoke and to have lower intakes of fruit, veg, fish, vitamin and mineral supplements, vitamin C and beta-carotene.
The researchers suggest that nitrites added to cured meats as preservatives, antimicrobial agents or colour fixatives might be responsible for damaging the lungs.
This is an interesting study but it should be interpreted with caution.
It’s worth pointing out that COPD is typically a disease associated with smoking and this study found that those people who ate the most cured meats were also more likely to smoke. This makes it difficult to draw clear conclusions.
As is often the case in research, it’s incredibly difficult to isolate one particular aspect of a person’s diet and claim that it is responsible for causing a particular disease.
High consumers of cured meat were also more likely to have lower intakes of fruit and veg. This may also affect the conclusions as fruit and veg tend to help protect against COPD.
The British Nutrition Foundation sums up the findings of this study extremely well. It says,
“This large prospective study does seem to suggest an association between a very high cured meat consumption (more than 14 times per month) and an increase in the risk of COPD, but there is little previous research supporting this.
Most evidence suggests that high intakes of fruit and veg are protective. Despite attempts to control for other dietary differences, those consuming such high intakes of processed meat are likely to have many different dietary and lifestyle characteristics from those who don’t eat it at all. There is no evidence that a moderate consumption of cured meat is detrimental in relation to COPD and no evidence to suggest that red meat in general is a problem.”
Bottom line: small to moderate amounts of cured meat such as bacon as part of a balanced, healthy diet are unlikely to cause health problems.
When it comes to keeping your lungs healthy, avoiding smoking and eating five fruit and veg every day are two of the best things you can do.
For a healthy heart and to lose weight, remove any visible fat from any meat, including bacon, opt for lower-fat sausages and grill rather than fry products.
Using the dieting tools in WLR will help you learn how to follow a healthy diet and balance calories for weight loss or weight maintenance. You can keep an online food diary and access WLR's calorie and nutrition databases. Try it free for 24 hours.