When asked what the common American meal would be, most probably think of hefty burgers or blackened hot dogs on the grill, or ribs slathered in barbecue sauce.
Recent studies have shown that a number of processed meats—including hot dogs, bacon, and salami—cause cancer.
This news is both shocking and terrifying, as the average American consumed 71.2 pounds of red meat and 54.1 pounds of poultry in 2012.
About 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat.
Although this number is miniscule compared to the roughly 300,000 people who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, it is still frightening to know that the food most people eat everyday can cause them to have cancer.
Processed meats have been classified as class one carcinogens, which means that there is strong evidence suggesting that processed meat causes cancer. It is mostly linked to colorectal cancer, and possibly stomach cancer.
When processed meat is digested, it creates chemicals that damage the cells that line the bowel. It may also cause cancer because of its fat content and the way it is processed and cooked.
Meats that are charred or burnt may also increase the risk of cancer, as meats cooked this way tend to contain heterocyclic amines.
Heterocyclic amines are chemicals formed when meat is cooked at very high temperatures, and have been found to cause cancer in animals, although its effect on humans is still unknown.
Some ways to avoid this potentially harmful chemical are to marinate meat before cooking it, and to cook meat at lower temperatures.
The main reason processed meats cause cancer is because most Americans consume too much meat in their lifetimes.
The Cancer Council recommends eating a modest amount of lean red meat three to four times a week, and to limit the amount of processed meats consumed or to avoid them altogether. They also suggest that people eat more fish and plant-based foods.
There are many alternatives to eating processed meats, and a change in diet will be beneficial to the human race. If we can change the way that we eat, we will be able to live healthier and longer lives.