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Do Hot Dogs Cause Colon Cancer?

If You Are Concerned About Cancer, Think Twice About Hot Dogs

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Updated December 08, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Hot Dog Mania

Americans consume about 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you're concerned about colon cancer, does the hot dog deserve such a prominent place on your plate? Unfortunately, no.

Hot Dogs and Colon Cancer

Dozens of studies have looked at the connection between meat in the diet and colon cancer risk. The picture they paint is somewhat complicated. Some studies suggest meat causes colon cancer, others do not. This has led health experts to consider other factors about meat that may affect colon cancer risk, such as the type of meat and how the meat is prepared and cooked.

Studying how different types of meat affect colon cancer risk has demonstrated that when it comes to hot dogs, less is better.

Regularly eating hot dogs, or any other type of processed, smoked, cured, and salted meat significantly increases the risk of colon cancer. Eating these foods increases the risk of other types of cancer as well. What are processed, smoked, cured and salted meats? Think hot dogs, bratwurst, sausage, salami, bologna, bacon, salt pork, cold cuts and lunch meat, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, smoked fish, corned beef, and jerky.

Hot Dogs: How Much is too Much?

When it comes to increased colon cancer risk, it's tough to know exactly how many hot dogs are too many. As a guide, health experts who study this topic have found that eating more than one and a half ounces of processed meat per day, which includes hot dogs, significantly increases the risk of death due to any cause, including deaths due to colon cancer, other cancers, and heart disease.

What does one and a half ounces of meat look like? A 3-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. This means that a typical hot dog easily exceeds one and a half ounces. Simply having a salami sandwich at lunch and a hot dog for dinner will put you far above the one and a half ounce per day limit that likely increases colon cancer risk.

Hot Dogs in Moderation

If you're interested in reducing your risk of colon and other cancers, not to mention heart disease, a few simple changes will do the trick. You don't have to shun all animal foods. Simply cutting back on the amount of meat you eat, including hot dogs, will markedly improve your health. An added benefit? You'll improve the health of the planet too!

Some ways to do this include:

  • "Vegetarian" Night: One night a week, try to make a completely vegetarian meal. Use this as an excuse to stretch your culinary skills and try new and different foods and recipes.
  • Substitution Solution: From time-to-time, substitute plant proteins, such as beans, for meat. Try bean soups; burritos, enchiladas, and tacos; chili; pasta dishes; and casseroles. Veggie dogs and brats are a good option too. If you have bad memories of these foods, know that these products have improved dramatically in taste and texture in recent years. Try them and you may surprise yourself with how much you enjoy them.
  • Go Ethnic: Experiment with ethnic foods that are naturally vegetarian, such as Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Mexican dishes. Ethnic cuisines also incorporate new and different foods that may be unfamiliar to you, but that you may love if you give them a try.
  • Protein Power: Many people are convinced that without meat they will come up short on protein, but this simply isn't true. In the United States, nearly everyone gets far more protein than they need. Forgoing meat for one meal or a day will not put you at risk for protein deficiency.
  • Moderation Magic: If you love hot dogs, there's no reason to fret. Any type of meat can be part of a healthy diet, so long as you base the rest of your diet around vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and beans. If you can't part with hot dogs, keep it to once or twice per week at most. You also can enjoy good-quality, non-processed meat, such as fish, chicken, or lean beef (3 ounces or less at one sitting), 3 times per week.

Sources

Larsson SC, Wolk A. "Meat consumption and risk of colorectal cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies." International Journal of Cancer 2006 119:2657-2664.

Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A. "Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People." Archives of Internal Medicine 2009 169:562-571.

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