Are those couple of slices of bacon on your BLT as dangerous as smoking a cigarette? Processed meats like bacon and cold cuts are listed as a Group 1 carcinogen - the same as smoking or asbestos. But that doesn’t mean they are equally dangerous. The classification reflects the strength of evidence linking processed meats (think bacon, sausage, hot dogs, jerky, and cold cuts) to cancer risk. Basically, any meat that’s been tweaked to enhance flavor improve preservation by salting, curing, fermentation, or smoking is considered processed. Just 1.75 ounces of bacon (about 2 slices) a day is linked to an 18% greater risk of colorectal cancer. That’s the equivalent of 1 hot dog or a couple of slices of cold cuts. While it isn’t a good idea to load up on these foods (they are often high in saturated fat and salt, too), let’s put the risk in perspective. The lifetime risk for an average American of developing colorectal cancer is 5%. An 18% increase raises that number to about 6%, so an occasional ballpark dog or BLT should be fine. Important to not: Simply choosing nitrate-free meats may not reduce your risk of cancer. High temperature cooking methods like pan frying and grilling may produce more carcinogens in meat. Choosing lower temperature cooling methods like braising or roasting may reduce your risk.
Health & Nutrition Letter from Tufts University