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BLOG: August 2008

Hot dogs and cancer

We all know that hot dogs are not the most healthful food out there, but cancer? You may have seen a recent TV ad, run by the The Cancer Project group, showing a boy eating hot dog and lamenting of just being diagnosed with colon cancer. Reaction from those that can be considered partial to the industry (The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council) is sort of interesting. It says the ad is "scare tactics", but wouldn't go so far as to state that the cancer connection is factually baseless.

What is going on?

Turns out, the ad is backed by the recent analysis (November 2007) of five adult studies by the American Institute for Cancer Research. It concluded that eating 50g of processed meat a day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21%. One of the five studies (Nothlings, University of Hawaii), on over 190,000 subject in a 7-year period, has found that those regularly consuming processed meat had

as much as 67% higher risk of
developing colon and pancreatic cancer.

Well, hot dogs are mainly processed meat. And a single hot dog just about fills the 50g quota.

Why would processed meat, and, specifically, hot dogs, increase one's cancer risk? Sure, those with hot dogs, or processed meat in general at their regular menu, are likely to be consuming mainly nutritionally inferior junk-foods. That itself is not health-supporting. But what about hot dogs specifically?

 It is true that they are all but pure natural food. Not only that the very meat they contain may be of questionable quality, or can be mixed with meat by-products of unknown type, origin and condition, hot dogs regularly contain chemical additives like phosphates, MSG, nitrates and nitrites.

While MSG (monosodium glutamate), a common flavor enhancer, has very spotty reputation with respect to its possible adverse effects on health, it hasn't been linked to cancer. But this doesn't apply to nitrates and nitrites. Their link to cancerous nitrosamines is well known, and for quite a while: even Paavo Airola mentions it, well over three decades ago (How to Get Well).

If so, why are nitrates and nitrites added to hot dogs (also other cured meats such as salami, bologna, bacon and some cheeses)? Their primary role is to protect against clostridinum botulinum bacteria, the microorganism causing botulism (it is, by the way, resistant to irradiation). In addition, they help maintain red color by reacting with myoglobin in meat.

One could say, it is pretty significant role. This is a part of the reason why the FDA refuses to ban these preservatives.

It also has something to do with the industry, selling over 20 billion hot dogs annually, being a full-flagged multi-billion dollar business, with a lot at stake, and lots of chips to bargain with