After years of research and hundreds of studies finding links between eating certain meats and cancers, health experts have finally broken out the branding irons.
A report by a cancer research group from the World Health Organization announced that hot dogs, bacon, sausage and other processed meats are now ranked alongside cigarettes and asbestos as known carcinogens.
The WHO data showed that a person who eats a little bit less than 2 ounces of processed meat a day, which is equal to one small hot dog or about two slices of salami, is 18 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than someone who eats none, said Alice Bender, a registered dietitian and the associate director of nutrition programs at the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Bender said that processed meat is any meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding chemical preservatives.
“This puts most of the cold cuts at the supermarket deli counter — such as ham, pastrami, turkey and bologna — into this category, along with bacon, sausage, hot dogs, corned beef, pepperoni, beef jerky as well as canned meat, like Spam. Turkey bacon and turkey sausage are also processed meat, as are smoked turkey and smoked chicken,” Bender said.
Some of the substances used in the smoking process to preserve meats may lead to the formation of the cancer-causing compounds.
Also, processing meat often involves using nitrites as preservatives to prevent bacterial growth and as coloring agents, but nitrites may form compounds called N-nitroso compounds. The compounds have been found to cause cancer in animal studies, Bender said.
Cooking methods may also play a role. High-temperature methods, such as grilling, frying or broiling, which might be used with beef or pork, can form more cancer-promoting chemicals.
The WHO report recommends that people avoid eating processed meat, or reserve eating it to only a few special occasions during the year, such as a hot dog at the ballpark, a sausage when tailgating and bacon on Christmas morning.