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Junk Science Update: Hot Dogs and Deli Meats Are Free of Carcinogenic Compounds


According to the astute researchers from Kansas State University, hot dogs, as well as pepperoni and deli meats, are relatively free of carcinogenic compounds.

That's right! No need to fret about that juicy sausage or turkey deli meat anymore because J. Scott Smith, professor of food chemistry, and his K-State research team say it's OK.

The team looked at ready-to-eat meat products to determine their levels of heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. These are carcinogenic compounds found in meat that is fried, grilled or cooked at high temperatures. Studies have shown that humans who consume large amounts of HCAs in meat products have increased risk of stomach, colon and breast cancers.

Ready-to-eat meat products are meat or poultry products that come in edible forms and don't need additional preparation or cooking.

Can You Say Biased?

The ready-to-eat product project was a collaboration with several other K-State researchers and appears in a recent issue of Meat Science, the journal of the American Meat Science Association. So in essence, this is another example of criminals investigating their own crimes.

It's important to note before reading further that part of Smith's research was supported by the the American Meat Institute Foundation and the National Pork Board Checkoff.

Actually the American Meat Institute insists that "the most important fact is that the larger body of evidence has shown that processed meats are a healthy part of a balanced diet," if you can believe that.

Although the study does indeed seem to examine one aspect (HCAs) of the carcinogenic nature of ready-to-eat meats, it fails to properly address other aspects which are far more relevant when discussing the manufacturing of these types of food.

Details of the Study

But enough the completely biased nature of this study...let's dive into the details. It focused on eight types of ready-to-eat meat products: beef hot dogs, beef-pork-turkey hot dogs, deli roast beef, deli ham, deli turkey, fully cooked bacon, pepperoni and rotisserie chicken.

"These are the most common types of ready-to-eat products, and their use has increased in recent years because of convenience," Smith said. "For this research, we took each of these products and prepared them as a consumer would."

The researchers heated up the hot dogs and bacon in a microwave, cooked the pepperoni on a pizza either in the oven or a microwave and used the chicken and deli meat as obtained. After doing so, they studied the meat to determine whether it contained five different types of HCAs according to nanograms per gram, ng/g.

Pepperoni had the least HCA content, 0.05 ng/g, followed by hot dogs and deli meat, 0.5 ng/g). Such amounts are low, and the researchers concluded that consuming such ready-to-eat meat products contributes very little to HCA intake.

Fully cooked bacon, with 1.1 ng/g, and rotisserie chicken meat, with 1.9 ng/g, contained all five types of HCAs tested. Rotisserie chicken skin had significantly higher HCA levels, with 16.3 ng/g. This is because chicken skin contains more fat and protein and less moisture, and HCA levels tend to increase as moisture decreases, Smith said.

"Based on this research, HCA consumption can be reduced by not eating chicken skin," he said.

The reasons for lower HCA content in some of the other ready-to-eat products may be because of the higher water content in the ready-to-eat products. More moisture prevents many HCAs from forming. Ready-to-eat products are often enhanced products, meaning they have a water solution with flavoring added to them.

"Hot dogs and deli meat may have low HCA levels because they are manufactured at low temperatures," Smith said. "The low HCA levels may also be from ingredients that are added to the meat and prevent HCAs from forming while the meat is cooking."

The Reality of All Meats Tested in This Study

HCAs are only one facet of the carcinogenicity of meat and since that's all that was tested for, there is no assumption or conclusion on other factors that influence the toxic nature of ready-to-eat meats.

There are plenty of other lethal additives and preservatives in ready-to-eat products which completely nullify any relevancy of this study when relating it the carcinogenic potential of meat products. HCAs do not negate this reality, and whether their HCA content was high or not is beyond extraneous.

Hot Dogs have clearly been shown to cause cancer. Dr. Ute Nothlings, an investigator from the Cancer Research Center at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, said "the results suggest that carcinogenic substances related to meat preparation, rather than their inherent fat or cholesterol content, might be responsible ...."

"An analysis of fat and saturated fat intake showed a significant increase in risk for fats from meat, but not from dairy products, indicating that fat and saturated fat are not likely to contribute to the underlying carcinogenic mechanism," Nothlings said. She suggested that chemical reactions that occur during the preparation of processed meats might be responsible for the association.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Sodium nitrate and nitrite are added to deli meats as a color fixative. Unfortunately, nitrates and nitrites may increase the risk of health problems including cancers. People who eat hot dogs and other processed meats have a 65% increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

One study showed that people who ate meat containing nitrates and nitrites fourteen or more times per month had double the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious lung disease usually seen in smokers.

Research in Sweden found that Swedes who ate on average three ounces of processed meat each day had a 15 percent greater chance of developing stomach cancer than those who consumed two ounces or less.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter whether you consume any kind of hot dogs, deli or processed meats, or whether they're cooked to produce HCA's or not. What matters is that they're all toxic due to their preparation and manufacture. If you care about your long-term health, stay away from all processed meats...period!

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.  

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