The nitrite preservatives in processed meats such as bologna, bacon, ham, and hot dogs form carcinogenic nitrosamines but also reduce the growth of botulism bacteria, forcing regulators to strike a balance between consumers risking cancer or a deadly form of food poisoning.
Image thanks to Emily Barney
There are literally hundreds of studies on the link between cancer and cured meats like bologna, bacon ham and hot dogs but just for a taste, just over last year or so, processed meat consumption was significantly associated with bladder cancer, endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, and then all the way down the digestive tract: throat cancer, esophageal cancer, more esophageal cancer, more esophageal cancer and stomach cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer. Oh, and in a 10 for 1 deal, Processed meat was significantly related to the risk of stomach, colon, rectal, pancreas, lung, prostate, testis, kidney, and bladder cancer—and leukemia. That’s why the official American Institute for Cancer Research recommendation is to try to avoid processed meats entirely.
With concern over the potential danger of nitrosamines growing, consumer groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, petitioned the USDA as far back as 1972 to ban or at least greatly reduce the nitrite in cured meats. The USDA denied the petition citing nitrite’s role in the prevention of botulism bacteria that can grow inside vacuum-packed meats. They had to weight the risk of cancer with of consumers getting deadly food poisoning bacteria from lunch meat.
You know in 2011, the National Pork Board officially changed their quarter-century old slogan from Pork: the other white meat, to Pork: Be Inspired. Maybe for bacon they should have considered the tagline: Cancer or botulism, take your pick
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.
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This reminds me of the cooked meat carcinogen issue. If we undercook meat, then we can get food poisoning (see for example Fecal Bacteria Survey, Chicken Out of UTIs, U.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph) but if we make sure meat is well-done, we risk exposure to carcinogens produced when muscle flesh is exposed to high temperatures (see Fast Food Tested For Carcinogens, Muscle Tremors Diet, Carcinogens in Roasted Chicken). Tomorrow I'll cover why nitrites from meat can be harmful while nitrites from nitrates in vegetables can be helpful. Can't wait for more on the latest in nutritional science? There are hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.
For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance, Top 10 Most Popular Videos of the Year, How Chemically Contaminated Are We?, and Strawberries Can Reverse Cancer Progression