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The Scary Link France Just Found Between Cancer And Processed Meat

Mashed logo: MainLogoMashed 7/14/2022 Claire Schuh
Deli meats behind a glass case © Bloomberg/Getty Images Deli meats behind a glass case

These days, it seems like nearly everything out there can increase your risk of cancer. However, looking to official sources like ANSES — the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety — can help you to get the necessary information to make an informed decision about protecting your body from carcinogens, including whether or not you should be changing your diet. This week, ANSES confirmed that processed deli meats are one of the more dangerous foods when it comes to cancer risk, as they contain higher levels of nitrates and nitrites than less processed foods. 

As Live Science explains, nitrates and nitrites are both added to processed meat in an attempt to limit bacteria growth. Bacteria can cause the development of diseases like salmonella and botulism. Nobody wants to get salmonella from their sandwich! The flip side is that these additives can have negative health effects in the long run, even though they protect you from food-borne illnesses in the short run. When nitrates and nitrites are ingested together, they form "nitroso compounds," which ANSES notes can be "carcinogenic and genotoxic to humans." ANSES also confirms that there is a correlation between nitroso compounds and a raised risk of colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer refers to cancers that begin in the colon or rectum, although they can easily spread to other areas of the body.

Switch Out Processed Meats For Fruits And Veggies

Fruits, vegetables, and seeds spread out on a table © New Africa/Shutterstock Fruits, vegetables, and seeds spread out on a table

Unfortunately, a lot of the work of keeping nitrates and nitrites low in deli meat is out of the consumer's control, according to ANSES. Many of the practices that would curb the level of nitrates and nitrites happen on the farming and manufacturing side of the equation. Since there's nothing the average person can do about that, we have to instead look at how we can change our diets to protect ourselves. Luckily, ANSES has clear, proactive information on how to limit your deli meat intake to lower your personal risk of cancer. They suggest keeping your intake of the kind of meat you'd get from your grocery store's deli counter below 150 grams per week, which is about one serving of deli turkey or chicken breast meat, per Fat Secret

ANSES also echoes what the NHS says about maintaining a balanced diet: Consume at least five different "portions" of fruit and vegetables per day. Fruits and vegetables not only provide vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and potassium. They also provide fiber, and a diet high in fiber can reduce your risk of colorectal cancers and keep your digestive system healthy. If you're also concerned about losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, fruit and vegetables are low in both calories and fat. Practice switching out a serving of processed meat every week with a serving of fruits and/or veggies -- they're delicious, and they could very well help reduce your risk of cancer. 

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