Many Can't See Giving Up Red, Processed Meats Despite WHO Warning

Many can’t see giving up red meat, processed meats despite health group’s “carcinogen” warnings

Even with a new cancer warning out from the World Health Organization Monday, a lot of Boston-area consumers say they can’t foresee a day they give up red meat or processed meats like bacon, deli meat, and sausages.

“I think it’s a good source of protein, as long as you don’t eat too much of it,’’ Emerson College student Lauren Olsen, of Lebanon, N.J., said Monday afternoon.
Lucy Wildman, also an Emerson student, said, “I eat a lot more chicken and pork, but I definitely eat burgers and steak and bacon sometimes,” and giving those up entirely, she said, would “be rough. It would take a lot of doing to get there.’’

After reviewing 800 health studies, WHO scientists have concluded that processed meats increase the risk of stomach and colon cancer and, like cigarettes, should be considered a straight-up “carcinogen.” Red meat generally, the WHO report said, is “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

What kind of impact could it have on the restaurant and food business? Chris Coombs, owner of Boston Chops, D Bar, and Deuxave in Boston, all of which serve plenty of meat dishes, said he was frustrated with the imprecision and sweeping generalizations of the report.

“I don't think it's fair to group meats that contain nitrites and nitrates with basic red meat,’’ Coombs said. “I don't think it's fair to group pork with beef. It's a really vast study that I think has some inconclusive results.’’

“I think it's very important to eat what makes you happy, in balance, and in moderation,’’ Coombs said. “I hope this report just makes people more generally aware of how they consume food and what they’re consuming and where and comes from and what’s put into that food.’’

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said he thought the most striking news from the WHO study was the range of processed meats it holds up as carcinogenic.

“It includes not only kind of the usual offenders, like bacon and sausage, but also low-fat deli meats that people often think of as a healthier choice, the balonies and the turkeys,’’ Mozaffarian said. “Processed meat should be avoided, not only for cancer risk, but heart-disease and diabetes risks.’’

Diet recommendations can never be one-size-fits-all, but Mozaffarian said a good take-away message from the WHO study for most consumers would be that “if you’re going to eat meat, once or twice a week, make it fresh hamburger or fresh steak and don’t eat the processed meats with all the preservatives, the sodium, the nitrates … Processed meats should be a once-in-a-while choice – think, once a month or twice a month you feel like a BLT [sandwich] or bacon and eggs. Unprocessed meats, have them once a week or twice a week as a source of some vitamins and nutrients that you can’t get otherwise.’’

With videographer John J. Hammann 

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