Mmm, Bacon.

I’ve seen a new study is going around about processed meat (bacon, hotdogs, etc.) and red meat (beef for most of us).  The studies are saying that eating these meats will increase your risk of death by up to 20%.  Read about it here, but I doubt you’ll get the whole story.  I doubt the study tells the whole story and if it does you’d have to read the entire thing because the media are sensationalizing parts of it.  These things are usually aimed at controlling your behavior anyway, not giving you real health advice.  In this case, one of the doctor’s in the study is quoted as saying no amount of processed meat or red meat is good for you.

Really?  None?  One steak a year on the Fourth of July is bad for you?  Food is bad for you?  Please!  Food is good for you and red meat contains essential nutrients.  Should you eat it three times a day every day?  Probably not, but you just know there’s a 97 year old dude that claims his longevity is because of eating bacon everyday.  He’s probably smokes and drinks too.  Someone once said Oreos have no value.  Sugar, trans fat, processed flour, total junk.  But I counter that if an Oreo of two after a stressful day at the office calms you down and relaxes you, that’s a good thing and the overall effect is positive.

That’s the problem with these studies, or rather one of the problems.  They don’t take into account individual differences or other benefits.  Some people can’t even look at bacon without their blood pressure and cholesterol sky rocketing.  Others can eat it morning, noon and night and never see an effect.  some people live radically healthy lifestyles and die young.  Other people abuse their bodies and live into their 90’s.  If a steak once a week is your reward for five days at the gym working your ass off, how bad is it really.

Plus, much of the mortality is confined to those people that actually eat bacon everyday.  Most of us don’t.  The mortality is so high because people that eat bacon every day, tend not to take care of themselves otherwise.  They are overweight, have high cholesterol and blood pressure and/or get little exercise.  These studies rarely take that effect into account.  People who eat stuff that’s “bad” for them also do a lot of other things that are bad for them.  It compounds and skews the results.

Another problem is how these studies are presented.  A 20% increase in mortality over a 20 year period sounds scary.  But if the mortality rate is one percent it become 1.2 percent.  Not so scary.  A fifty percent increase in cancer, for instance, on a ten percent cancer rate changes it to 15%.  Bad, but not as bad as they make it sound.  A fifty percent increase sounds huge, but it depends on the underlying rate.

Additionally, if two slices of bacon every day increase mortality rates by 20%, how will two slices a week affect you.  How about two a month?  Well, the doctor says any is bad for you, but I guarantee that at some point the risk becomes insignificant.  I know from smoking cigars that smoking several every day has risk associated with it.  You might increase your chance of lung, throat or mouth cancer by say 10%.  But one cigar, three of four times a week has no additional risk, or rather it’s so low that it can’t be calculated or is insignificant.  Does that mean I won’t get cancer if I limit my cigars to one or two a week? No.

Why? Because all of this is risk based.  You take a lot of risks, you are likely to get burned.  You manage those risks and you have a good chance of avoiding them.  It’s not about eating bacon makes you die.  It’s about eating too much bacon, might make you die so eat it in moderation.  You might still get cancer or have a heart attack, but you’re managing your risk and only exposing yourself to as much risk as you can tolerate. If you followed every recommendation from every study ever put out, you’d be able to nothing.  In fact, since many conflict with each other, you be able to do less than nothing.  And on top of that, you actually have to read the studies because the media distorts and cherry picks to sell papers and ad time.

You know your body and health better than anyone.  You know what foods make you feel bad and which ones make you feel good.  You know what illnesses run in your family and what risk factors you are subject too.  But more importantly, you know what makes you happy and what doesn’t.  These studies and recommendations never take your happiness into account.  I personally would rather live to be 75 and eat, drink and do what makes me happy than live to 95 through a life of misery and denial.  You might feel differently.  That’s fine.  You should live how you choose, not how others think you should.  Remember that the next time some study or the way some study is reported tries to scare you into conformity.