A Healthy You: Processed Meats and Cancer
Cindy Gates RD, LD, CWC, CLT
We continue to hear that we should be focusing on a plant based diet to help prevent cancer and cancer recurrence. The American Institute of Cancer research suggests eating high amounts of red meats – over 18 ounces a week – has been linked to increased risk in colorectal cancer. Processed meats may increase risk of cancer and heart disease.
Research suggests that regularly eating even small amounts of cold cuts, bacon, ham, pepperoni, sausages and hot dogs can increase colorectal risks. Most experts say to avoid all processed meats except for special occasions. One recent study showed that compared to eating no processed meat, eating 3.5 ounces every day (a large hot dog) increased colorectal cancer by 36%.
It’s not year exactly clear why processed meals increase risk for colorectal cancer but researchers are exploring a few options.
- Nitrates/nitrites: these are added to processed meats to preserve color and prevent spoilage. In lab studies, these compounds form cancer-causing compounds, carcinogens.
- Smoking: smoked meats contain PAHs ( polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), substances that are formed at high-heat and considered carcinogenic.
- Cooking at high temperatures: meats cooked at high temperatures can also contain PAHs and heterocyclic amines ( HCAs) that can damage DNA.
- Heme iron: the heme iron found in red meats may damage the lining of the colon.
Recently they have come out with nitrite free meats. These are a better choice since nitrite free but are still smoked, salted, and cured so would be wise to carefully limit.
When it comes to healthy eating, it’s all about the healthy choices you make every day that matters most. The occasional hot dog at a baseball game or ham on Christmas is unlikely to increase your risk for colon cancer or heart disease. To decrease your overall risk , here are some simple ways to make changes:
- Replace packaged deli meats with fresh chicken or fish ( or better yet a plant based protein such as beans).
- Instead of bacon or salami, try vegetarian sausages.
- Replace beef or pork in chili and spaghetti with beans ( or at least cut down on the meat and increase the beans).
So it’s almost chili making seasons, so open some beans and add some peppers and onions too and make some healthy chili for you and your family.
A Healthy You is a regular column about nutrition, healthy living and cancer care. It is written by Cindy Gates, RD and LD and the Cancer Center’s Oncology dietitian, herbalist and Certified Wellness Coach.