The World Health Organization recently added a new item to the list of known carcinogens: hot dogs. Well, not specifically hot dogs, but processed meat in general. This is based on a report by the agency’s cancer research arm.
This news has garnered many headlines and a good bit of confusion. The WHO classification means that there’s sufficient evidence that eating processed meat causes cancer, namely specifically colorectal cancer.
What Is Processed Meat?
Processed meat is meat that has been altered to make it last longer. This is done by curing, salting, fermenting, or other processes. These meats include:
- Hot dogs
- Corned beef
- Beef jerky
- Some canned meats and others
What Does the WHO Classification Mean?
The WHO now classifies processed meat as Group 1, putting it in the same class of carcinogens as:
All Group 1 means is that this thing is known to cause cancer. There’s no ranking of danger within that classification.
So, this classification doesn’t mean that hot dogs are as dangerous as cigarettes. The report estimates that 34,000 deaths per year worldwide could be caused by a diet high in processed meat.
How Do These Meats Cause Cancer?
The link between processed meat and cancer isn’t new. Many of you may remember headlines in the 1970s with a similar story.
Back then, the talk focused on nitrates and nitrites, which often come from sodium nitrate added to processed meat to preserve it and give it that pink color. You can find many deli meats, sausages, bacon, and hot dogs on the shelf now that say “no nitrates or nitrites added.”
However, nitrates and nitrites still occur naturally with common alternatives like sea salt or celery juice. Research hasn’t been able to strongly link these chemicals to cancer. The WHO report mentioned N-nitroso compounds as a possible culprit, but the experts say it’s still not well understood why these foods cause cancer.
How much processed meat is too much?
Based on research, the report doesn’t recommend that everyone stop eating bacon right away. The research group concluded that for every 50 grams of processed meat you eat daily, your risk of colorectal cancer goes up by 18 percent.
That amounts to about one sausage, just under two slices of bacon, and approximately one hot dog, depending on the brand.
Besides the cancer risk, you can find many reasons to eat processed meats in moderation. They usually contain high amounts of fat, cholesterol, and sodium, which all contribute to heart disease. To keep yourself healthy, be sure to keep your diet well balanced.
Do not despair with all this information. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Dietitians and your UPMC doctors are wonderful resources to review and provide healthy, sound nutrition information. Also visit eatright.org to learn on how a little red meat can be included into an eating plan.