Have you heard the news about hot dogs? There is now a confirmed link between
the consumption of processed meats and the development of certain types
of cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC), the cancer research branch of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The data shows that a person who eats just under two ounces of processed
meat a day, which is about the same as one hot dog or two slices of salami,
is 18 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than someone who
eats none. Unprocessed red meats such as steak and lamb have also been
classified as potentially carcinogenic.
“The link between certain kinds of meat and some forms of cancer
isn’t ‘new’ news,” says
Phillip Cecchini, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
Mission Heritage Medical Group. “Research evidence has been accumulating for years, but with all
those meat-based weight loss diets out there, a lot of people don’t
realize that there is a real risk from consuming too much meat protein.
An excess of meat protein in the diet can not only increase the risk of
certain cancers, but can also lead to elevated blood sugar and weight
gain,” he warns. “However, it’s important to remember
that protein is a vital part of a balanced diet so it’s not about
cutting it out completely, but rather about eating it in moderation.”
So, what qualifies as a "processed" meat?
Processed meat is meat that is not fresh and has been treated by salting,
curing, fermenting, smoking or any other process that enhances flavor
and improves preservation. “Most of the cold cuts at the supermarket
deli counter, such as ham, pastrami, turkey and bologna, fall in this
category, along with almost all of the kinds of packaged or canned meat
products. Turkey bacon and turkey sausage count as processed meat, as
well as smoked turkey and smoked chicken,” says Dr. Cecchini.
Research hasn’t yet shown precisely why diets high in processed meat
increase the risk of colon cancer, but the WHO report has identified a
few suspects, mainly nitrites present in preservatives and carcinogenic
compounds that occur during the smoking process. “Barbecuing or
grilling your meat at high temperatures can create chemicals in meat that
may increase certain cancer risks, says Dr. Cecchini. “These chemicals
are generally found in higher levels in red and processed meat.”
“Overall, research suggests that the lifetime risk of someone developing
colon cancer is about five percent,” says Dr. Cecchini. “While
this doesn’t seem like much, generally the risk of colon cancer
increases dramatically in people over 50. So, if you are 50 or older and
haven’t had a screening colonoscopy, we recommend you have one.
Identifying the early signs of colon cancer makes all the difference.”
Dr. Cecchini notes that a single meat-based meal isn’t going to be
that harmful. But long-term consumption of large quantities of red and
processed meat, is not the best strategy for living a long and healthy
life. “Moderate meat intake is fine – it’s a good source
of nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc. It’s about being sensible,
and not eating too much, too often. The occasional hot dog or hamburger
is okay,” says Dr. Cecchini, “but people should really try
to limit their consumption of red and processed meat to help reduce the
risk of cancer. Fresh white meats such as chicken, turkey and fish are
a great, healthy alternative.”
“People who eat more than 90g of cooked red or processed meats a
day should really try to cut down to 70g or less,” suggests Dr.
Cecchini, “Healthy living is all about maintaining balance and moderation.
By eating plenty of fiber, fruits and vegetables, cutting back on red
and processed meat, limiting your alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco,
you will decrease your risk of cancer and increase your chances of living
a long and healthy life.” The internet offers a vast selection of
delicious, balanced recipes that substitute red and processed meats for
other protein based foods such as beans, fish, chicken and turkey.
Do you have any good alternatives to processed meat? Share a comment below.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.