Dr. Frank Hu, a nutrition professor at Harvard, said most experts in health concur that “processed meats are more harmful than nonprocessed meats.” Cooking with high heat adds to health risks.

As summer kicks off, it’s also grilling season. But experts warn that you should know the risks before eating that grilled hot dog. 

Summer kicks off grilling season. But experts warn that you should know the risks before eating hot dogs or other processed meats cooked on the grill.

“The evidence is quite convincing that regular consumption of processed meats is detrimental to health, including colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology and chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the New York Times. In addition, he contended, a majority of authorities in health concur that “processed meats are more harmful than nonprocessed meats.”

Grilling the meat adds to the cancer risk, given that high heat can form additional carcinogenic effects, Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, told the Times. 

Processed meat includes ham, sausage, bacon, hot dogs, jerky, pepperoni and deli meats. The curing, fermenting, smoking or salting of the meat boosts flavor and shelf life, however, that processing has been said to contribute to the development of cancer. 

The World Health Organization deemed processed meat “carcinogenic to humans” in 2015. The World Cancer Research Fund International recommends eating little of it, if any, and suggests limiting red meat servings to 12 to 18 ounces per week. 

Red meat is currently classified by WHO officials as “probably carcinogenic.” It also contributes to heart disease and stroke risk. 

“Most studies focus on highly consumed processed meats — hot dogs, bacon, sausages,” Hu said. And because all types of processed meats are studied together, he added, “it’s difficult to make a conclusive statement regarding which processed meats are better or worse than others.”

“Theoretically, you can argue that processed poultry and fish are not as bad as processed red meat,” he said, but noted there is no evidence to support that. Thus, Hu advised that those processed products should be treated with the same amount of caution. 

The Times report adds that processed meat may also contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes and even dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

“A plant-based diet will be much more preventive at reducing risk,” Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, an assistant professor of medicine at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, told the Times. “It doesn’t mean you have to go 100 percent vegan or vegetarian,” she said, simply that most of one’s dietary choices should be plant-based.

“I do think if people can choose lean cuts, organic and vegetarian feeds — if you’re able to afford it — that’s better,” Surampudi said, “because whatever the animal you’re consuming ate, that gets concentrated in that animal’s body, and then we consume it.”

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