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Prevention Is Better Than Cured Meat

The levels of nitrosamines—considered the most carcinogenic agents in cigarette smoke—were recently measured in an array of processed meats including chicken, turkey, and pork.

February 29, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to the CancerProject.org and Cory Salveson.

Transcript

Nitrosamines are considered the most carcinogenic, the most cancer-causing agents in cigarette smoke.

In 2011, scientists measure the amount of nitrosamines in meat products. This is a table showing quantities of seven different preformed carcinogenic nitrosamines. So from chicken meatballs, to pork, turkey slices, hot dogs, foie gras and sausage, processed meats come prepackaged with carcinogens thanks to the transformation that occurs from nitrite to nitrosamine in the absence of phytonutrients.

How much is there in meat, compared to tobacco? The Cancer Project uses this graphic to warn consumers about the cancer risks associated with processed meat, suggesting a few hot dogs may contain the carcinogenic load of a pack of cigarettes. Turns out they hit it right on the head. Filtered cigarettes have 11 times more nitrosamines and nitrosamides, but that's per kilo. Cigarettes have less than a gram of tobacco each. Hot dogs are about 60 times heavier and so four hot dogs has more than a pack of 20 cigarettes.

Here’s how much nitrosamine you can measure over the course of a day in someone eating ham, or sausage….

And here these are two representative graphs of how much is flowing through the bodies of those eating vegetarian.

In fact you can take people who eat smoked or canned meat, put them on a vegetarian diet and very quickly see a drop as your body starts to detoxify itself within a day or two. Here’s a chart... of the effect of changing from a meat diet to a vegetarian diet on urinary nitrosamine levels, a reflection of what's flowing nthrough their blood streams. Looking at 4 different carcinogens you can see Day 1 and 2 eating meat, then vegetarian diays 3 through 5 and you can see the dramatic drop, though doesn’t drop as low as those on the control vegetarian diet. Presumably, though, a few more days and body would be able to flush out the remainder.

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 Dianne Moore.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Eating a plant-based diet can also help detoxify your body from some of the industrial pollutants found higher in the food chain, but it takes substantially longer than a few days. See Industrial Pollutants in Vegans and Flame Retardant Chemical Contamination. For a comparison of the levels of different carcinogens in meat, see Food Sources of PCB Chemical Pollutants, Carcinogenic Putrescine, Hair Testing For Mercury, Dioxins in the Food Supply, and Carcinogens in Roasted Chicken. See all 1,500 or so topics I cover here.

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance, Eating To Extend Our Lifespan, Harvard's Meat and Mortality StudiesAdding FDA-Approved Viruses to Meat, How Chemically Contaminated Are We?, How To Reduce Dietary Antibiotic Intake, and Avoid Cooked Meat Carcinogens 

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Eating a plant-based diet can also help detoxify your body from some of the industrial pollutants found higher in the food chain, but it takes substantially longer than a few days. See Industrial Pollutants in Vegans and Flame Retardant Chemical Contamination. For a comparison of the levels of different carcinogens in meat, see Food Sources of PCB Chemical Pollutants, Carcinogenic Putrescine, Hair Testing For Mercury, Dioxins in the Food Supply, and Carcinogens in Roasted Chicken. See all 1,500 or so topics I cover here.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/dirty-cyclist/ Dirty Cyclist

    Dr Greger,

    I really enjoy your site and your videos!

    Question: How do “natural” meat products stack up? We sometimes buy hotdogs and bacon with “no added” nitrates as well as some meat products that only have nitrates from celery power. Are these just as bad as standard meat? Thanks for all the info!

    Robert

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Dirty, stay tuned for Dr. Greger’s next video describing how when animal fat AND antioxidants are present, the nitrosamines are much more potent. No added nitrites is a clever way of disguising plant based nitrites and putting them in meat, such as the example you gave with celery.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/randy/ randy

    Terrific insight and education in all these videos, Dr Greger. Very appreciated. They are presented with great research, supported from a scientific background yet are explained and simplified for all to understand. You do a fantastic job and are performing a very helpful service.

    Really glad I have found this site, I have recently, for the past three weeks been following a low fat completely Vegan diet and have already noticed definite improvement in my overall health…..enough to sure keep me motivated for it’s continuation. All your information just makes it that much clearer.

    Is it possible/ok to ask some related nutritional questions as they arise?
    Thank you much.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Absolutely! I’m so glad you’ve found my work to be useful.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/louisef/ LouiseF

    Dr. Greger is a star and needs to be booked on the Dr. Oz show! He would reach so many people with one appearance and could save a lot of lives. I hope someone is working on that!!
    Louise F

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/killercavs/ killercavs

    Dr. Gregor,

    Thank you so much for all of your great work! My husband and I have been vegan for the past 1.5 years and really enjoy watching your videos. We have told as many people as possible about this site!

    Our question is, do fake meats like “Smart Dogs,” “Smart Bacon,” “Boca Burgers,” etc contain nitrosamines?

    -Tara
    http://www.taramartine.blogspot.com

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Since the pinkening effect of nitrites in meat is due to the binding with heme iron, because there’s no blood in plant-based meat substitutes, I can’t imagine them adding nitrites–but always good to check the label!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/seakingwonder/ seakingwonder

    I was wondering doctor, whether you’ve rated conventionally raised animal products (or in the case of fish, wild-caught) for toxic ingedients or affects across the board.. For instance, dioxins in fish, omega 3/6 balance of farm raised animal products, the affects of grain feed on animals, hormones (both growth and lactating), etc. I’m an athelete and I try to get a fair amount of complete animal proteins and going completely organic in that regard is a little expensive for my taste at this time. So can you tell us what the most toxic animal products (across the board) might be?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/seakingwonder/ seakingwonder

    Thanks Toxins, but I’ve already watched all the doctors videos. I’m looking for a scale of most to least toxic foods or food elements so that I may pick my poisons, so to speak. And I don’t buy the cholesterol=bad thing because I ate upwards of 3 dozen eggs for over 5 years and when I got my cholesterol profile checked last fall, every variable, including HDL, LDL Triglycerides and a couple others all checked out “optimal”. One, I think, was “sub-optimal”, which is just shy of the ideal score on a scale that had 5 grades. I have no problem with eating raw, organic, cage-free eggs. There’s plenty of evidence that Atkins, Taubes and company had it right in regards to the cholestrol debate. That isn’t to say that factory farming isn’t rife with reasons to eat organic meats AND vegetables. Note* I eat a moderate amount of monosaturates and omega-3 polys from nuts and seeds to counteract the LDL so I suppose that has something to do with my good cholestrol. I only cook with coconut oil (saturated fat) as well.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      The cholesterol in eggs is one concern, as the doctor points out, but just because your fasting cholesterol is “optimal” for the American standard doesn’t necessarily make you healthy. As soon as you eat one egg, you expose your body to several hours worth of oxidative stress, inflammation of ones arteries, endothelial impairment (what keeps you blood running smoothly) and increases the susceptibility of LDL cholesterol to oxidize (beginning stages of heart disease). The keyword here is oxidize.

      Nuts are a very poor source of omega 3 fats. In fact, walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds are the only good sources of omega 3. The other nuts all have outrageous ratios of omega 6:omega 3. The ratio we should strive for is 4:1 or under.

      Peanuts have a ratio of 4400: 1
      Almonds have a ratio of 1800: 1
      Brazil nuts have a ratio of 500: 1

      If you have a high ratio of omega 6 to 3 then your omega 3 doesn’t get used effectively and you end up with a large excess of arachadonic acid. If you have watched Dr. Greger’s videos, im sure you are aware of the dangers this entails. Eggs are a very high source of arachadonic acid as well. Eggs are by no credible standard “healthy”.

      Coconut oil is also another junk food that is unhealthy. It is 91% saturated fat, and 23% of that saturated fat is of the worst type.

      This 2 year study looked at coronary artery lesions of the heart after consuming different types of fat. Polyunsaturated fat (omega 3 type of fat) Monounsaturated fat (75% of which makes up olive oil) and Saturated fat (the kind found in mostly animal products and coconut oil). They looked at angiograms a year apart after intervening with increasing one type of fat in each group. All 3 fats were associated with a significant increase in new atherosclerosis lesions. Most importantly, the growth of these lesions did not stop when polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats were substituted for saturated fats. Only by decreasing all fat intake including the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats did the lesions stop growing.
      http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/263/12/1646.abstract?sid=47d1d016-3c15-43f4-a013-0d10144ef8e3

      The best advice I can give you based on the nutrition research is to completely get off the eggs and do not consume coconut oil. These are non beneficial, harmful foods.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/seakingwonder/ seakingwonder

    when I said 3 dozen eggs, I meant 3 dozen eggs a week (upwards, actually). And why are you going into a tirade about how ‘nuts are a poor source of omega 3′. Omega-3 isn’t the only mechanism for fighting HDL. For starters, polyunsaturates in olive oil and almonds boost HDL. I eat Walnuts, Almonds and Pecans primarily, peanuts and/or cashews as an occasional guilty pleasure and I eat flax by the truckloads. Not all saturated fats are created equal either. Coconut oil is palmitic acid and is treated quite differently by the body other fats. Saying you’re going to get high cholesterol from eating cholestrol is like saying you’re going to get pulmonary adema from drinking water. The body is a complex machine and it’s becoming more evident that sugar is the actual monster, not fat or even saturated fat or cholestrol. of course we can all agree that trans-fats are good for nobody.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Im sorry if it appeared i went into a tirade. The food choices you are choosing to eat are not healthy and unsupported by the scientific literature. I was pointing out that eggs are unhealthy, as is coconut oil, or any oil for that matter. If you can provide some scientific evidence for your claims then please share it with us.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/seakingwonder/ seakingwonder

    since you prefer to play rock/paper/scissors with web links, here’s a doctor who believes differently than you do. good day and good luck. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/08/10/making-sense-of-your-cholesterol-numbers.aspx

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      I asked you to show the health benefits of eggs and coconut oil through the use of a scientific paper, not an article talking about cholesterol. A scientific paper comes from a peer reviewed journal, like the national library of medicine.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/seakingwonder/ seakingwonder
    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      These are not scientific papers, they also contain many misconstrued data, and the first one lacks any references. Its easy to find stuff on the internet that supports anyone’s view, id start by looking here.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/louisef/ LouiseF

    If someone wants to discount the overwhelming studies and evidence of the harmful effects of cholesterol then there isn’t much you can do.
    With all the evidence that animal protein promotes cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, dementia, etc., it is shocking that most Americans continue to eat animals morning, noon and night.

    I wish more people would also consider the taking of an animal’s life and the extreme cruelty and suffering that these animals go through to deliver someone a few moments of pleasure on their lips. People just don’t care, their desire is more important than their compassion. Very sad.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance!

  • Adéla Likavcová

    Hello, I wonder what the regulations regarding the nitrates in meat in the EU are, as they tend to be stricter in general. Thank you.