How Hot Dogs Are As Harmful As Cigarettes to Your Health
Studies have shown that processed meats are so detrimental to our health that some experts are suggesting they should have a warning label, like cigarettes, to warn consumers. But are hot dogs and ham really so bad?
The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund’s report ‘Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective’ recommends avoiding processed meats completely:
“After carefully examining all of the evidence, the panel was not able to find a level at which consumption of processed meat could be reliably considered completely safe. Every 1.7 ounces of processed meat consumed per day increases risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.”
That’s worth repeating – For every 1.7 ounces consumed per day, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 21 percent. That doesn’t take much – one lunch meat sandwich, one processed beef patty on your restaurant burger, or one hot dog at the street vendor each day. Eating processed meat on special occasions, like ham at Christmas or a hot dog at a baseball game, seems to be okay. Processed meats can include ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, sausages, frankfurters, and hot dogs.
What is it about processed meat that is so bad? What we know is that overheated and burnt meats produce carcinogenic compounds. So does preserving meat by smoking, curing, or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives. Hot dogs and other processed meats are cooked and preserved during processing, and then we often cook them again.
Whether you choose to eat processed meats or not is your own decision. As adults, we have that luxury. However, children do not and there are significant concerns in regards to our children’s diets. Children eat what their parents buy and what their school provides. Typically, school and daycare food heavily favors processed meats. They’re cheaper and often more convenient. They are, after all, convenience foods. Menus include beef patties that are not 100% beef, beef crumbles, meatballs, chicken nuggets, chicken patties, ham, hot dogs, corn dogs and sausage links. These things are so highly processed that it’s almost misleading to call them meat. Parents will have to take charge to make sure their kids are eating healthily. This may mean sending sack lunches, educating your kids, and even getting involved with the school to advocate for better nutrition.
It’s clear that these food products have become a way of life for many. For someone who does want to cut down on processed meat, what can you do? We didn’t develop these habits overnight so changing them overnight may be too overwhelming. Start by asking yourself these questions:
How important is your health on a scale of 1-10?
What, in your life, ranks higher than your health? (i.e. can this be a priority for me right now?)
Are you committed to making changes in your diet and your family’s diet to reduce and avoid processed meats? (It will take commitment and some planning to be successful.)
Once you decide that your health is important and you’re committed to making it a priority, you can move forward:
Look at your menu plan (or if you don’t have one, write down your regular meals and do a quick inventory of your refrigerator and freezer).
Identify any processed meats you eat.
For each one, find a whole, real food substitute.
Don’t forget eating out. Whether fast food or sit down, you may need to make some changes.
Look at your child’s school menu and find ways to supplement their meals with healthy options.
Choose one change to make the next time you go grocery shopping.
Keep making one change at a time.