The World Health Organization this week released a statement on bacon and other processed meats.
Spoiler Alert: they are carcinogenic.
You know who didn’t weigh in? Susannah Mushatt Jones, the world’s oldest living person. She turned 116 years old in July and eats bacon for breakfast. 4 strips. Every day. With eggs and grits. And fried chicken and collard greens for dinner. And a country BBQ on Sunday.
Personally, I love bacon. And proscuitto. And I am also wary of large sweeping headlines. I wanted more details about the headlines. So, I took a closer look at the report and the numbers before purging the fridge.
According to the data presented, eating processed meats everyday will increase your lifetime risk of getting colon cancer from 5% to 6%. That doesn’t seem like a huge increase (and, honestly, as a person of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and a family history of colon cancer, my risk based on my genes alone is double that). So, I’m not going to be eliminating it from our shopping list just based on this new rating. I have always planned on being vigilant about colonoscopies.
I would love to live to be 116. (Hell, why stop there?). And maybe modern medicine will get me there. And eating a healthy diet with supplements like aloe vera certainly can’t hurt.
But you know what can hurt your longevity?
Prolonged exposure to the “fight or flight” hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine) have been shown to raise your risk of hypertension, strokes, and heart attacks. Our bodies are made up of a complicated interconnection of hormones working together in a pathway. They interact, for example, with the sex hormones – estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. As a result, in women, too much stress can mess with our cycles – causing irregular and/or painful menstruation. And in both men and women, high levels of chronic stress have been shown to affect sex drive and fertility.
Nonepinephrine inhibits insulin, which regulates blood sugar. When insulin remains inhibited for too long, in times of chronic stress, your risk for Type 2 Diabetes is increased.
And that’s not all. Stress basically messes up every system in the body. Chronic stress has a negative effect on the immune system and increases your risk of depression and anxiety disorders. Scientists have even shown that stress can cause shrinkage of brain cells in rats.
Honey, I shrunk my brain.
The dictionary defines stress as: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Many studies have come out over the past few years looking at the causes of stress.
You know what causes me a lot of stress? Finding “healthy” meals that everyone in my family will eat!
One of the nutrition bloggers I follow is Cassie Mendoza-Jones from HeartFeltHarmony. Earlier this year, Cassie has a wonderful blog post where she talks about her clients who are clean-eating, super fit, but also depressed. People who stressed so much about what, when, and how they eat that they worry themselves sick.
And eating your stress can actually prevent you from losing weight and toning up. Your body has evolved more cortisol receptors in your abdominal cells. Scientists think it may be evolutionarily advantageous. In order to protect your vital organs (which are located primarily in your abdomen), when you get stressed your body hoards the fat you eat in anticipation of tough times ahead.
So how can you reduce stress around eating? I’m not an expert and with 3 picky eaters in the house (yes, I count my husband) it can get overwhelming at times. In fact, I probably spend more time trying to meet the needs of my family than my own (as most moms out there can relate to, I’m sure). But, I am getting better.
There are so many diets out there that proclaim to be “the healthiest one.” Low fat. Slow carb. Vegan. Paleo. It isn’t too hard to find evidence backing up the nutritional value of almost any diet out there. Or to find stories that seem to contradict them. For example, Yogi and health expert Sadie Nardini talks about how she was never sicker or had less energy than when she lived as a strict vegetarian. And, on the other hand, Mrs. Jones is lived to 116 years old while eating bacon and BBQ. I’m not making a judgement about diet choices. I’m only stating that, you can probably find someone blogging confidently about how great their life is having made the same food choice as you if you look.
As someone trained in genetics, I don’t believe in a one-diet-for-all world. Our genetic profiles make each of us unique. Which means, unless you analyze the DNA of your digestive tract, you probably are going to eat something that your body can’t digest as well as someone else.
What I do believe in is working to keep life (and eating) as simple, balanced, and fun as you can. Invite your kids into the kitchen to help you cook. Eat with your fingers. Find recipes that remind you of happy times from your childhood. Have dessert and a glass of wine. Take it easy on yourself.
I’m not perfect. In fact, I had hot dogs and fries for dinner with my kids last night while my husband was out. They were halal chicken hot dogs and we had carrot sticks as our side dish but still, it was not a gourmet meal by any standard. But, my kids didn’t care. They were happy and, in all honesty, the hot dogs were delicious.
So don’t beat yourself up. And, when you need a reminder that what you are eating is perfctly OK, read Sadie’s blog post called “The New Healthy: WTF?” I promise she will make you laugh and drool at the same time (Sadie includes her favorite recipes!)