Among American favorites is the Hot Dog – a fourth of July staple that’s eaten at least once a week in most households. Many Americans are so used to eating a certain way that they don’t realize that they’re making unhealthy choices and that those choices are affecting their kids.
However, a USC epidemiologist found that children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia (1). And that’s not all, in another study, children who ate hot dogs one or more times per week were also at higher risk of brain cancer (2).
The study examined the relationship between the intake of certain foods and the risk of leukemia in children from birth to age 10 in Los Angeles County between 1980 and 1987 (3).
It also concluded that there was a strong risk for childhood leukemia for children whose fathers’ intake of hot dogs was 12 or more per month before conception.
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This demonstrated in part that the dietary habits of parents before their child is born, as well as during pregnancy, can leave them more prone to disease.
In fact, researchers Sarusua and Savitz, who studied childhood cancer cases in Denver, found that children born to mothers who consumed hot dogs one or more times per week during pregnancy had approximately double the risk of developing brain tumors (2).
It’s been suggested that the nitrates contained in hot dogs are the cause of these health problems.
“Processed red meat commonly contains sodium, nitrates, phosphates and other food additives, and smoked and grilled meats also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, all of which may contribute to the increased heart failure risk,” explains Alicja Wolk, D.M.Sc. (source)
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, these nitrates act as preservatives to prevent food from spoiling, and they also add colour to the meat.
Nitrites and nitrates are not cancer-causing by themselves, but in certain conditions in the body they can be changed into by-products called N-nitroso compounds, such as nitrosamines and nitrosamides. N-nitroso compounds are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Vitamin C may be added to some preserved meats. Vitamin C keeps nitrites from changing into nitrosamines, which may help reduce the risk of cancer associated with these chemicals.
However, new cases of nitrate-caused cancers still appear at an alarming rate each year.
How To Avoid Nitrate-Filled Foods
- Minimize your consumption of processed foods and cured meat products such as hot dogs, sausage and cold cuts.
- Check labels carefully and avoid products that list sodium or potassium nitrates and nitrites. In addition to lunchmeat, some canned beans and vegetables with bacon, and even packaged seafood, may contain these added chemicals.
- Eat organic food. Synthetic nitrates and nitrites are not allowed as preservatives in organic packaged foods and meats.
- Find out if your water is tainted with nitrates or nitrites. Public drinking water utilities test for these compounds and must disclose their results. If you drink well water, your local health department can help you find out if this is a problem in your area. You can also have your water tested by a laboratory. If the chemicals are present, consider treating your water with a home water distiller, a reverse osmosis filter or an ion exchange filter to remove any fertilizer nitrates in the groundwater.
- Eat a diet high in antioxidants. Vitamin C and certain other vitamins can reduce the conversion of nitrates and nitrites to nitrosamines. (source)