It was so long ago, I don’t remember all the details. I had recently moved to the US from Iraq, where I left my parents, my eight brothers and sisters, and the only home I had known. Just like any other immigrant, I was fascinated and wanted to soak in everything possible from my new experiences. I was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I was exploring, and learning about new cultures. I loved Pittsburgh. I still do. It instantly felt like my new home. And today, even though I reside in and have my medical practice in San Diego, California, I’m forever a Steelers girl!
I was invited to dinner with some new friends at a restaurant I hadn’t eaten at before. I’m not very complicated when it comes to ordering food. I always scope out the best-looking salads, and order accordingly. When the server placed the salad I picked in front of me that evening, among its vibrant greens, reds, and orange plants and vegetables, I noticed something foreign. Something that was brown and had off-white looking veins. And clearly, it was fried. I could see that there were grease sweat beads attached to the crumpled masses. I poked at it with my fork and ate this strange-looking fruit.
To my surprise, this was neither delicious fruit nor vegetable. It was a piece of bacon, and in my humble opinion, it was a disaster.
That was the first time I ate bacon. And the last.
Since then, I have become fascinated with people’s obsession with it. And the more I have researched bacon, the more I am happy about my decision to divorce it.
Processed meats are meats that have been chemically altered from their natural state, preserved by salting, fermenting, smoking, curing, or other methods. These methods are used to enhance flavor and extend the food’s shelf-life. Think sausages, hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, and of course, bacon.
Maybe because it is designed to taste good, it’s as though people think it’s good for them. When I tell people that I don’t eat bacon, many get defensive. They say things like:
- How can you not like bacon?
- Bacon makes everything better!
- You just don’t know how good bacon is.
- You are in denial; humans are made to eat bacon.
You would think that the reactions I get from people would make me want to avoid the topic altogether. But as a doctor, wife, mom, dog mom, daughter, sister, and friend, I’ve decided to be proud of my divorce.
Many don’t know that the World Health Organization has classified bacon in the same category as tobacco when it comes to carcinogenesis. We have done a good job asking people to give up tobacco, but how come we have not done a good job asking people to not eat bacon or processed meat?
I guess that it’s because of the culture around bacon.
Yes, people are very attached to their bacon. As a physician, people are willing to ditch me over the bacon. When I talk to patients with chronic medical problems and pains, I ask them about their diet. And they tell me what they eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I realize that these patients are eating a lot of processed meat. To me, bacon is the epitome of processed meats and seems to be the most popular. When I start talking about all the health risks associated with processed meat and giving bacon as an example, some welcome the conversation, and others tell me, “Leave my bacon alone!”
Here are the five reasons why I’ve divorced bacon.
1. I value a healthy heart
According to a study done on Unprocessed Red and Processed Meats and Risk of Coronary Artery Disease, the available evidence points to strong associations of processed meat consumption with the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD). To reduce the risk of developing heart disease, I have cut out all processed meats from my diet.
People who know that I don’t eat bacon will suggest that I try healthy alternatives to bacon, like turkey bacon. But I have learned that it’s the processing that makes the meat harmful. So replacing bacon with turkey bacon to make it healthier is misguided. All types of bacon are processed to become bacon, so changing the type of bacon does not change the fact that it’s processed meat. My choice is to let bacon be.
2. I don’t want to get diabetes
Diabetes needs no introduction, and I sure don’t want to get it. It’s a major health crisis and has been on the rise for some time now.
The reality of the problem is clear when seeing the alarming statistics reported by the American Diabetes Association:
- In 2018, 34.2 million Americans, or 10.5% of the population, had diabetes.
- New cases: 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year.
- Prediabetes: In 2015, 88 million Americans age 18 and older had prediabetes.
- Cost of diabetes as of March 22, 2018 was a whopping $327 billion.
Another fact I find interesting that both adults and children alike can develop type 2 diabetes. Knowing the risk factors to prevent the disorder early on can make a difference in a child’s quality of life.
In the study I mentioned above, the available evidence indicates strong associations of processed meat consumption with the incidence of diabetes. Eating unprocessed meats shows a small or no increase in risk for diabetes. What does this mean? It means that my divorce to bacon and other processed foods help lower the contributing factors of me becoming diabetic!
3. I would like to avoid cancer
In my book, Teaming Up Against Cancer, I share details about what I eat and foods that I avoid.
Over the years, humans have switched from a high intake of fruits and vegetables, lean meat, and seafood to heavily processed food that is low in fiber and high in trans fats. The reality is that many of the foods available are high in calories but have no to low nutritional value. And bacon is a prime example of a food that has no nutritional value, a high-calorie count, and has been proven to have detrimental health effects.
All processed meats were declared a definite cause of cancer by the World Health Organization in 2015, based on more than 800 studies. Red meat was listed as a “probable” cause of cancer. And this is something that I have taken notice of.
I have repeatedly heard the phrase, “Bacon makes everything better.”
And it must, because it is in everything.
But when I see bacon, I remind myself that the World Health Organization found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increases my risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. That’s the equivalent of about four strips of bacon. For me, it’s not worth it.
4. I don’t want to live with dementia
I get a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction from my job as a doctor. Helping heal someone’s anguish and pain is gratifying. But the job also includes many sad stories when I go home heavy-hearted and sorrowful when I see my patients’ health decline.
One of these very sad situations is the many encounters I have with dementia patients. It’s very somber and discouraging to watch someone not be able to communicate their most basic needs to their caregivers. It’s crushing to watch someone struggle so hard to say a couple of words and still not be able to communicate. It’s even more disheartening watching the caregiver and family members try to grasp all that is happening to their beloved spouse, parent, or grandparent. It’s devastating to watch the despair on the family members’ faces when they know that the irreversibility of dementia is sealed.
In a cohort study of close to 500,000 patients, the findings highlight that processed meat consumption is a potential risk factor for incident dementia. With clear associations between the processed meat I eat and the impact on my brain, it’s reason enough for me to divorce bacon on its own.
5. I love animals
The more mature I get, I see animals as cute, charming, and funny. My dog Duke is part of the family, and I can’t help but look into his sweet brown eyes and see purity, kindness, and unconditional love. I have grown fond of all animals, and I want to do my part to protect them. That’s one of the main reasons I switched to a plant-based diet. Animals are precious, innocent, and honest. They are way kinder to us than we are to them.
The pureness of animals reminds me of babies, and I can’t help but see a piece of bacon and wonder why things have to be the way they are. For me, eating plant-based foods makes me feel like I am making progress towards the ambitious goal of turning fewer animals into dinner.
I have divorced bacon and don’t miss it. There are plenty of other foods I can eat that will give me the nutrition and energy my body needs. I aim to reduce a dependency on all types of processed foods. By not eating processed meats, like bacon, I am taking one big step towards a healthier me!
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