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Processed meats including cold cuts, bacon, hotdogs, chicken nuggets, pepperoni, beef jerky and corned beef, to name a few, can cause cancer!….Is anyone really surprised? I think not.

The American institute for cancer research (AICR) released an article about the link between processed meat and cancer in on August 7th 2014. On October 26th 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially identified processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning the quality of the evidence firmly links it to cancer. Red meats fare a little better, falling into Group 2A (foods of substances that probably cause cancer), a category that also includes the toxic pesticide DDT, the chemical weapon mustard gas and the insecticide malathion.


The problem with all these foods isn’t what type of meat it is (ex: white meat versus red meat, pork or beef) it is the way it is treated. Meat that’s been smoked, salted, cured or changed in any process to enhance flavor or make it last longer is what has health experts especially worried. Even in small amounts, eating cold cuts and other processed meats on a regular basis increases the risk of colorectal cancer. The AICR have also found that eating high amounts of red meat- meaning 1.75 ounces a day or 18 ounces a week is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The WHO’s international agency for research on cancer states that 50 grams per day increases the risk of cancer by 18%. In practice this is what that means: 1 hotdog, 2 slices of ham, 5 slices of hard salami or 2 slices of Canadian bacon.


A lot of processed foods contain nitrites of nitrates. Nitrates turn to nitrites in the body where they react with amines in the meat to form carcinogenic compounds that can damage DNA. There is also the theory that heme iron in red meats contributes to cancer possibly by catalyzing the formation of N-nitroso compounds. This has been done in a rat study which has also concluded that calcium can buffer against the harmful effects. The last theory is the one of high temperatures. Carcinogens can form when meat is fried, roasted or grilled at high temperatures.

The reason for this is that meat produces more heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), two compounds that have been shown to cause cancer in animals. FYI, pan-frying meat makes it more susceptible to forming HCA as this method is one of the highest temperature cooking methods…so you can definitely say goodbye to bacon!

The American meat industry is fighting back about linking their products to cancer by saying that the disease involves a number of lifestyle and environmental factors. Do they not realize that one of the biggest lifestyle changes that can affect our overall health is nutrition? Do they not realize that to change the physiology in our bodies for the better we need to bring in proper nutrients for optimal function, amongst other things? How can one do that if they are consuming meats that contain carcinogens and other things like hormones and antibiotics? And how can we do that when the animals themselves don’t even have proper nutrition such as what they should be eating…grass! Yes it is important to keep a healthy lifestyle by exercising and meditating but it is also very important to eat right (meaning a balanced diet, eating organic, eating gluten free, eating grass fed and eating lean meats as much as possible).

Here are a few easy changes you can make to better your health and avoid processed meats:

  • Replace packaged deli meats with fresh chicken or fish

  • Replace sausage in chili and sauces with beans like kidney beans chickpeas and lentils

  • Try out different sources of protein like eggs, cottage cheese and hummus.

  • Use herbs and spices like garlic, fennel seed and chilli flakes to add flavor to your dish.

Do you have a favorite healthy snack or lunch idea that can replace processed meats?

Dr. Lydia Ouldchikh,



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