The days are warming and getting longer, and we all know what that means: BBQ season! Who doesn’t love heading over to a friend’s patio on a sunny Saturday afternoon with a few beers and firing up the ol’ grill? It’s pretty much the best part of summer. However, there may be a darker side to friends relaxing in the sun and playing a game or three of backyard bocce while noshing a hot dog.
Earlier this year, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) completed a review of more than 7 000 clinical studies of more than half a million people across Europe over the course of about 13 years, to seek a link between diet and cancer. It found that heavily processed products such as cheap hot dogs, sandwich meat, packaged ham and pepperoni contained high levels of sodium nitrite. It’s in the products to prevent food-borne illnesses in meats that go bad, like botulism.
It’s easy to say that cheap meat is bad because of where it comes from, i.e. heavy-process plants. It’s easy to say cheap meat is bad because the companies that produce it often fail to contribute to local farms while putting no care or love toward their animals. These are the cheap-meat facts that so many of us push aside to try and save a few bucks.
Hey, we’re students. Times are tough. But instead of focusing on where and how the meat is processed by producers, it might be just as important to focus on what happens after the meat is processed by your body.
The WCRF study said sodium nitrite creates cancer-causing nitrosamines in the human body. WCRF says there is a link between processed meats and cancer, cardiovascular disease and early death as well as strong evidence that eating processed red meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.
People who ate fresh, non-processed meats did not have high levels of nitrosamines in their bodies. A 2005 study at the University of Hawaii also found that processed meats increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67 per cent. So in the end we have to consider not just how our food is processed but also the problems our own bodies may encounter processing it.
Cured meats, like ham, bacon (yes, even our beloved bacon!), some sausages, hot dogs, deli meat and salami contain nitrite and nitrates, which are carcinogens. They are super bad for you and frankly (pun intended), they are everywhere.
That frozen pizza in the freezer? Risky! That late night hot dog? Sketchy. Bacon ceasar? Delicious, but deadly. Not just meats either, many processed foods use nitrates to preserve colour, which means many of your frozen dinners and ready-eat meals could be more costly than expected — vegetarians may not be immune.
This isn’t a scare tactic designed to slap that pork chop out of your mouth and convert you to the vegan lifestyle, but it should be a wake-up call to think about your food and eating habits. Students being broke and busy doesn’t mean they can’t head to a local market or butcher and prepare healthier meals in advance. Just make sure to cook and store carefully and use promptly. It’s all about planning and making your own process the only one between you and your food.