Some people would tell you that a chargrilled hot dog is as much a symbol of America as the stars and stripes, baseball, and apple pie.
But many health advisors say hot dogs and other processed meats don’t deserve their all-American image. “What’s the beef,” you say?
Well, scores of studies have linked hot dogs, bacon, sausage and other red meats with a higher risk of developing cancer. Here’s what the evidence shows. . .
Continued below. . .
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In fact, at least 58 studies show that the more hot dogs and other processed meats you eat—the more you bump up your chances for colorectal cancer.
What’s more, other studies have linked these foods to cancer of the ovaries and prostate, as well as leukemia. For example:
- Colon cancer—an American Cancer Society (ACS) study analyzed the relationship of red meat intake to colon cancer risk. Researchers studied the eating habits of nearly 150,000 adults between the ages of 50 to 74 for 10 years. In the final year of the study, the investigators analyzed the incidence of colon cancer in study participants.They found that men who ate three or more ounces daily—two or more ounces for women—were 30 to 40 percent more likely to develop colon cancer.The research team also reviewed poultry and fish consumption, but found no evidence linking these foods to colon cancer. Actually, subjects who ate less red meat and more poultry and fish reduced their risk of developing colon cancer.Now keep in mind that two to three ounces is barely enough ground beef to cover your palm! It’s not hard to get to 21 ounces per week with frequent indulgence in bacon, ham or hot dogs.
- Leukemia—a study published in the journal BMC Cancer determined that children who eat more bacon, hot dogs, sausage and other processed meats are 74 percent more likely to develop leukemia than children who avoid such processed meats and eat more vegetables and tofu.
- Prostate—findings reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology said researchers at the National Cancer Institute surveyed more than 175,000 men about their diets, including meat intake and cooking habits.They followed these men for nine years and found that the 20 percent (one in five) who ate the most red and processed meats were 12 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer.The connection was even stronger with advanced prostate cancer, the risk being almost one-third higher among those who ate the most red meat versus those who ate the least!
While many will argue that studies have reached conflicting conclusions—you should consider the possibility that changes in the way foods are grown and prepared might play a role in making cancer a top killer in the U.S.
The problem is in the processing…
So what exactly does meat processing involve? Basically, manufacturers use smoking, curing, salting or chemical procedures to preserve the meat. Nitrates are among the more dubious chemical additives
Many meat manufacturers use nitrates to:
- Give meats their pinkish color
- Enhance their flavor, and
- Act as a preservative.
When you eat bacon, hot dogs and other meats preserved with nitrates, your body automatically changes some of the nitrates to nitrites.
The nitrites then react with other meat chemicals to produce nitrosamines—which are known carcinogens.
If you also enjoy eating smoked meats, understand that this process produces cancerous hydrocarbons, which enter your food during the smoking process.
How do you feel about munching on slices of smoked, crispy bacon? If you like your meat well done, you should know that cooking processed meat at high temperatures can increase the formation of nitrosamines.
But how much is too much?
Well, the FDA considers 200 parts per million (ppm) of sodium nitrite added to food as safe. This equals about 1 pound of sodium nitrite additive per 5,000 pounds of cured meat.
If you’re currently healthy and not fighting cancer, there’s probably not much harm in eating bacon, sausage, ham and hot dogs as an occasional treat. It’s large quantities/frequent consumption that appear to pose a risk. I surely hope that most people aren’t eating 21 ounces a week (three ounces a day) of these processed pink meats.
Frequent eating of processed meat is probably most common among people who have a weight problem. And it’s likely just one of a half dozen bad lifestyle choices the same people are making — including lots of high-sugar and salt-laden snacks that can help pack on extra pounds. It’s all part of the collection of bad eating habits called the Standard American Diet — SAD.
If you want to feel better and live longer, try to load up your diet with fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables. But — as long as you’re not fighting cancer — you don’t necessarily have to give up meat, fat, sugar, potatoes and other carbs completely. Enjoy them once in a while as a special treat. When you do eat meat, choose free-range meat that’s raised without antibiotics and hormones.
You can indulge as much as you want in healthy saturated fats like nuts, avocado and coconut oil (see Issue #247 for the fats that are good for you). Cashew butter and almond butter are loaded with fat and delicious — and good for you. Who needs hot dogs?
And even though the feds say that small amounts of sodium nitrite in processed meats probably won’t cause cancer, consider playing it safe by making wiser choices.
When you feel the yen for bacon or sausage, many health food stores offer meat products that are nitrate-free. These products often have the word “uncured” on the packaging.
Lee Euler, Publisher