On July 22nd, a non-profit organization called “The Cancer Project” helped file a class-action suit against many major brand-name hot dog companies. Their goal is to get these hot-dog companies to display a cancer-risk warning label on their products. “Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer,” states Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Cancer Project. “Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information.”
According to a report by American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), evidence indicates that eating 50 grams of processed meat (which is equivalent to about 1 hot dog, 5 slices of bacon, or 2 slices of bologna deli meat) every day may increase risk of colorectal cancer by 21%. To translate, this means that people who eat processed meats every day have a 21% higher risk of getting colorectal cancer than people who never eat processed meat. Clearly, it’s a good idea to limit consumption of processed meats if you want to decrease your risk of cancer. To put this statistic in perspective, however, a regular smoker has a 1000-2000% increased risk of getting lung cancer compared to a non-smoker.
What if you only eat processed meat occasionally, such as once or twice a month? According to Karen Collins, a dietitian and nutrition adviser with the AICR, eating a hot dog once or twice a month would mean up to about a 1.4 percent increased risk of getting colon cancer.
It is not certain which aspect of processed meat is responsible for the increased cancer risk. Processed meats are generally high in fat, sodium and preservatives. One particular preservative in question is sodium nitrite. It is suspected that nitrites combine with other compounds in the human body to form N-nitroso compounds, a known carcinogen.
What does all this mean for you, then? When it comes to your diet it’s all about balance. Having an occasional hot dog on the 4th of July or at the ballpark probably won’t kill you, and it’s certainly less risky than smoking a cigarette. However, regardless of the results of the class-action suit, I recommend eating a diet rich in unprocessed fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in processed and red meats.
I will mention the only time I buy a package of hot dogs are for my nutrition presentations about “what not to eat”. When people actually realize how little protein and how much fat a hot dog actually provides they are usually surprised. So, if you just love that dog covered with ketchup, pickle relish, and mustard aim for a few times a year versus a few times a week.
What do you think? Should a cancer warning be displayed on hot-dog labels?