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Holidays without ham?

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Bacon is bad.

And so is ham, beef jerky, and all other kinds of processed meat.

So said a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) in late October.

While this isn’t really surprising — after all, it is accepted that any food eaten every day, without moderation, is unhealthy — should this stop us from devouring our favorite bacon, ham, tapa (dried or cured meat), or tocino (Philippine-style bacon)? Can we imagine our dining tables and holiday parties without ham and its succulent honey sauce? Or even tapsilog (tapa, sinangag, itlog — cured meat, fried rice, egg) without the tapa to greet us a good morning?

THE REPORT
Sausages, ham and other processed meats cause bowel cancer, the IARC warned in late October, adding that red meat “probably” does too.

In a review of 800 studies from around the world, it found “sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer,” and supports “recommendations to limit intake of meat,” particularly in processed forms — salted, cured, fermented or smoked. This includes hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, dried meat like beef jerky, canned meat or meat-based sauces.




According to the agency, for every 50 grams of meat eaten on a daily basis, the population-wide risk of developing colon cancer was 18% higher — enlarging the group of people likely to develop bowel cancer in their lifetime from six out of every 100 to seven out of every 100 who eat a three-rasher bacon sandwich every single day, explained statistician David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University, who was not involved in the study.

The IARC agreed the cancer risk was statistically “small,” but “increases with the amount of meat consumed.”

“It is not yet fully understood” how cancer risk was increased, the agency added — speculating about the potential role of chemicals that form during meat processing or cooking.

According to the WHO, bowel cancer is the third most common type, with some 900,000 new cases every year, and 500,000 deaths.

By the IARC’s own account, meat has “known health benefits” — it is a good source of key nutrients like zinc, protein and vitamin B12, as well as iron, which humans absorb more easily from meat than from plants. And the agency says it does not know what a safe meat quota would be — or even if there is one.

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NOTHING CAN STOP US!
Walang makakapigil sa ’min!” (Nobody can stop us), was the consensus of those whom BusinessWorld asked if the report affected their consumption of bacon, ham, and other processed meats.

“As a person from the middle-class, sometimes we’re left with no choice [but to eat cured meats],” said Fay Virray, a high school teacher in Batangas. “If it’s cheaper, it’s better, as long as we don’t eat it every day and with moderation,” she said.

A kilogram of honey cured bacon costs around P340. Canned ham and corned beef cost at least P30. Ham, the usual star of the Noche Buena (Christmas Eve dinner), can start at around P130. (Retail prices based on those in a market in Trabaho, Manila).

Besides the relatively cheap price, Raffy Antes, a corporate communications assistant from CardBank Philippines, said he loves his bacon because it is easy to cook. Just a quick fry in oil and he has a filling breakfast to get him through the day. “It already comes with a seasoning, prito lang solve na, (Just fry it and you’re good to go),” he said. Although he’s aware of its bad effects, he said he doesn’t really have a choice.

“Just like [instant] noodles, people on the go love their bacon and ham because they are always busy and have no time to cook,” he said.

“And besides, bacon isn’t the only culprit. Don’t blame it on the bacon,” said Anna Dichoso, an employee at an Ortigas area call center. “Almost all the food we eat, whether processed or not, are cancer-causing at some point. You’re eventually gonna die.”

BusinessWorld asked San Miguel PureFoods Co. — whose products include ham, hotdogs, and a wide variety of processed meat — on its reaction on the WHO’s statement, but as of this writing, it hasn’t replied.

But in a published press release, the company said it saw higher earnings in the past nine months, and expected the momentum to be sustained in the coming holidays. According to the report, its 8% growth in revenue was thanks to “better selling prices and increased sales of processed meats, dairy, spreads, and biscuits.”

According to Robinsons Supermarket marketing manager Aja T. Totanes, growth in sales of bacon and ham are up 15% and 26% year-to-date respectively. But the supermarket’s bestseller is the hotdogs.

Asked if they have seen an effect in sales after the health statement, Ms. Totanes said, “None so far, as what we have seen in the positive sales growth trend of bacon.”

FILIPINO CULTURE
Christmastime is the season to be jolly — and fat. It’s part of the culinary culture of the Filipinos to eat plenty and merrily, especially evident during the holidays.

A healthy diet? It seems to take a backseat in December when people’s social lives are filled with reunions and parties. A partygoer is sometimes scorned as being corny or KJ (a killjoy) if he or she chooses the salad amid the sea of lechon (roast pig), ham, pasta, and unlimited cups of rice.

“The problem with Filipinos is they love food rich in carbohydrates. They want tasty and saucy food. But it’s all about retraining your palate. I tell my hypertensive patients to eat food with less salt, and they can do it — it’s just that they’re not used to it,” said Philippine Heart Association president Dr. Alex Junia at a recent forum about healthy eating during the holiday season.

But then again, that’s easier said than done. It takes formidable will power to resist food temptations (the lechon is calling you!), especially when our eating culture includes unlimited servings of rice, bottles of sodas, and a fetish for anything fried.

“It’s hard not to gain some extra pounds during the holidays,” said Monica Antonio, a health enthusiast and an online website editor. “But it doesn’t mean that you have to punish yourself and stay away from, say, bacon or ham. Just simply eat in moderation and always pair it with fruits or other sources of fiber.”

Ms. Antonio never fails to eat bacon every day, but she said she pairs it with wheat bread. Plus, she does regular exercise like cardio and sometimes, boxing. For Christmas, she said her dining table would highlight ham — and a handsome fruit platter.

“Bacon is bad, but it’s so good, right?” said celebrity chef Rosebud Benitez when asked if she could imagine a Filipino dining table without ham or bacon or other processed meats.

“We can’t imagine holidays without ham, but then again, I don’t recommend anything artificial. Choose lean meat and avoid processed meat. I suggest do it yourself. Marinate your own meat,” she said.

For the holidays, she recommends trying roasted vegetable lasagna for a main course instead of a ham. While ordinary lasagna recipes have 550-600 calories per serving, hers only has 220 calories.

But then again, we only live once, and having a little, just a quick bite, of bacon or ham wouldn’t hurt, right? — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman with a report from AFP


Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

By Rosebud Benitez

Ingredients:

2 pcs of zucchini
Bell peppers
Mushrooms
Eggplants
Quick melt cheese
Cornstarch
Chicken cubes
2 tbsp canola oil
1 kilo of tomatoes
1 clove garlic
150 grams of onion
2 cups of spaghetti sauce
1 gram of fresh basil
Low fat milk

Procedures:

(The white sauce)
• Heat the low fat milk in a pan along with chicken cubes.
• Stir in the cornstarch and water mixture until it thickens.
• Then season to taste.

(The red sauce)
• Prepare the fresh tomatoes by putting them in boiling salt water until the skin peels off. Then cut them in medium slices.
• Saute onion and garlic in a pan.
• Add the tomatoes and spaghetti sauce.
• Bring to a boil then simmer
• Season to taste and finish with basil leaves.

(The noodles)
• Lay cooked lasagna in a pan then layer the red sauce then the white and top it with vegetables.
• Repeat the layers.
• Top the last layer with cheese then bake in a pre-heated oven in 375 degrees.

Serving size: 15 servings

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