Does bacon’s recent bad press have you concerned about carcinogens? In this month’s newsletter, we’ll talk about about what you can do to reduce your cancer risk from processed meats.

The World Health Organization recently stated that processed meats cause cancer and that red meat probably causes cancer. While an important statement, it is not new news. Registered Dietitians, along with other health experts, have long been encouraging people to limit both processed meats and red meat to cut their risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

So, what is a processed meat exactly?  A processed meat is one that has been salted, cured, smoked, or fermented. Processed meats include foods like bacon, hot dogs, sausage, pepperoni, deli meats, meatballs, and chicken nuggets.

The good news: there are ways we can enjoy these foods in small amounts.

1.  Vary protein sources and limit portion size

To start, we really need to evaluate how often we feed our family processed or red meat.

If you serve kids hot dogs 3 times a week, aim for once a week instead. Lean on other kid-friendly healthy proteins like a beans in a burrito or homemade chicken tenders.

Also, find ways to reduce portions sizes. Try replacing half the deli meat on your sandwich with a few tablespoons of hummus or avocado.

2. Switch up your cooking methods

Cancerous compounds form when we cook meat at high temperatures such as with grilling and frying. Pre-cooking your meats, like boiling a hot dog before a quick pan-fry or microwaving bacon vs. frying it, can limit the formation of these troublesome compounds.

Another way to limit carcinogens: marinades. Marinating meat for as little as 30 minutes significantly reduces the production of cancerous compounds in meat.

3. Look for healthier versions of processed meats

Scientists don’t know exactly why processed meats cause cancer, but one theory suggests that the nitrates, a preservative, may be a cancer-causing agent. Although slightly more expensive than conventional types, look for nitrate-free and uncured meat deli meat, hot dogs and bacon. The extra cost is worth the health savings!

4.  Pair processed meats with produce

When we pair produce with processed meats, the antioxidants can help protect us from the cancer-causing agents. Fruits and veggies are cancer-fighting foods! Instead of a side of mac-and-cheese with that hot dog, pair it with a fruit salad or carrot sticks.

Remember, its not only about what we avoid, but what we include. Eating mostly plant-based foods and produce, maintaining an active lifestyle, and avoiding smoking lowers your cancer risk by 70%!

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.