Eating processed meat, fried foods could increase cancer risk.

Oluwatobiloba Jaiyeola

Health experts have urged Nigerians to reduce their consumption of processed meat and fried foods, noting that eating too much of such foods could increase the risk of cancer.

According to the experts, some of these foods contain carcinogens which are compounds that cause cancer, adding that several studies have found links between processed meat and various forms of cancer.

Speaking in an interview with PUNCH Healthwise, the assistant Chief Dietitian and former National Publicity Secretary, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Olusola Malomo, said high consumption of red and processed meat can increases the chance of getting bowel cancer to 18 per cent.

He said, “A number of studies have found links between processed meat and various forms of cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes.

“The World Health Organisation has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami, and frankfurters as a group one carcinogen (known to cause cancer) which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer.

“Eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer.

“Cooking or processing meat, especially at high temperatures introduces various chemicals that may lead to cancer. These substances are known as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

“Additionally, processed meats often contain another carcinogenic chemical known as N-nitroso compounds.

“Consuming too much red and processed meat causes 18 per cent of bowel cancer cases. Processed meat is classified as a class 1 carcinogen by the WHO,” the dietician stressed.

According to him, research has shown that there are certain chemicals in processed meats, both added and naturally occurring, adding that those who eat processed meat daily are 1.18 times more likely to have cancer than those who don’t eat meat.

He added, “Any meat that has been cooked, smoked, canned or salted is a processed food,and these types of meats, including hot dogs, salami and cured bacon, are associated with increased risk of conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain cancers such as bowel or stomach.”

Malomo further stated that the excessive frying of groundnut oil and palm oil can predispose individuals to cancer and obesity.

According to the WHO, processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.

It said, “Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood.

“Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces”.

The global health organisation added that processed meat is classified as group one, carcinogenic to humans because there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans.

WHO added, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer. An association with stomach cancer was also seen, but the evidence is not conclusive.”

“Epidemiological studies suggest that risk can be reduced by decreasing meat consumption, particularly processed meat and increasing the intake of vegetables and fruit.”

Also speaking with PUNCH HealkthWise, a nutritionist at the Evergreen Health Consult, Yemisi Solanke-Lawal, stated that chemicals found in meat added during processing, or produced when cooking can increase the risk of cancer.

She explained that this chemical includes Haem which is naturally found in red meat and processed meat.

Heam, she said, can damage cells, and cause bacteria in the body to produce harmful chemicals which can increase the risk of cancer.

Solanke-Lawal said, “Red meat such as beef, goat meat, and pork are all good sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals and can form part of a balanced diet.

“But eating a lot of red meat and processed meat like sausages or canned meat increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer.

That is why it is recommended that people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red meat and processed meat a day should cut down to 70g or less.

According to her, chemicals like nitrates and nitrites are also used as preservatives for processed meat.

She explained, “When we eat this meat, nitrites can become cancer-causing chemicals (N-nitroso compounds or NOCs).

“These chemicals may be the reason why processed meat increases the risk of cancer more than fresh red meat.

Heterocyclic amines and polycyclic amines are also chemicals produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures, like grilling or barbequing. These chemicals can damage cells in the bowel.”

The nutritionist urged Nigerians to consume more fruits and greens.

She said, “Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, fibre rich foods and avoiding processed foods, salty and fatty food is key to staying safe from several types of cancer.”


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Written by Tomisin Akinola

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