Before consumers wolf down their next processed meat meal, they should know what the mega-meat industry chooses to keep from its customers…Nitrates and cancer.
The secret lurking in the processed meat business (think here hot dogs, red meat, cold cuts and pepperoni) is that several studies show that eating food treated in this manner increases the risk of getting cancer. Most consumers don’t know or understand that the meat industry routinely adds chemicals such as nitrates to their products in an effort to extend their shelf-life and improve their products’ appearance.
The most recent study, published August 2010 in the journal Cancer, followed over 300,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71, to determine whether the intake of processed meat was related to getting bladder cancer. The study followed this large population for seven years. Study participants filled out dietary questionnaires and provided information about their lifestyles, such as race/ethnicity, smoking and education. Their total dietary nitrate and nitrite intakes were measured. The researchers also determined nitrite and nitrate content for 10 processed meats representing 90% of processed meats eaten in the U.S. Researchers found a clear association between red meat cold cuts and bladder cancer risk. When they looked closer, they also found a link between total dietary nitrite intake and bladder cancer risk.
This study isn’t alone in implicating cancer risk from over exposure to nitrates and nitrites. In 2005 the Journal of the National Cancer Institute investigated the relationship between red and processed meat intake and colorectal cancer. The study stated: “Our data confirm that colorectal cancer risk is positively associated with high consumption of red and processed meat….” Likewise, a 2006 article in the International Journal of Cancer found an association between processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer in men.
It is worth noting that some of these same studies found a correlation between cancer risk and increased consumption of red meat. What appears clear from these studies and others is that red meat processed with nitrates carries significant risk for those who eat it. So, why doesn’t the processed meat industry tell the truth about the risk that run with its products? The right response to these scientific studies is proper and accurate product labeling so that consumers can know what risk they face and then be able to make an informed decision about what steps to take in light of this information.