Spoiler Alert: Processed Meats and Sweets Aren't Healthy

Posted on 11/19/2015  by  Healthy Living Blog 

Just days before Halloween, foodies got bad news that was neither a trick nor a treat.
The World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classified eating red meat – beef, veal, pork, lamb – as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This new classification puts steak and pork chops in Group 2A, the same group as inorganic lead compounds and malaria.
But, it gets worse. IARC’s press release also says processed meat is carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) and that one portion a day (one hot dog, or two slices of bacon) was linked to increased rates of colorectal cancer, as well as prostate and pancreatic cancer.
“It’s pretty bad when a food lands in the same category as asbestos and tobacco in terms of its carcinogenic potential,” says Kay Judge, M.D.opens new window, medical director for Sutter Weight Management Institute in Sacramento and internal medicine specialist at Sutter Medical Foundation.
So should you stop eating all processed meats in an effort to reduce your risks of getting these cancers?
“It appears that the carcinogenic potential of processed meats was linked to amount ingested,” she said. “The less your intake of potential carcinogens, the less presumed risk of those carcinogens causing cancer in your body. It is also important to decrease other lifestyle factors that may lead to cancer – including smoking.”
If the IARC’s news wasn’t enough to make your palate and heart ache, one day later a new study came out proclaiming sugar is toxic. Neuroendocrinologist Robert Lustig, M.D., of UC San Francisco School of Medicine, led a study that showed when sugar was replaced by other food groups in the diet of 43 children, their tendency to get pre-diabetes was reduced.
“This study has a few potential flaws – it relied on children's recollections of diet, which may not have been accurate,” Dr. Judge says. “It substituted sugars for starches, but did not decrease overall calories. Replacing processed sugars with starches still is a ‘high glycemic’ diet.”
Nonetheless, the study has merit, Dr. Judge says. “High sugar foods cause an insulin surge, which may lead to metabolic changes including fat increasing around the middle and the development of pre-diabetes.”
Dr. Judge says sugar is not a toxin when taken in reasonable amounts. TheAmerican Heart Association recommends men limit their daily added sugar intake to 9 teaspoons a day, and women to 6, but the average American eats 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.
“Is eating dessert or drinking a soda on par with eating toxic chemicals? It could be, if you are eating more than 6 to 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day,” she says. “And sugar teaspoons add up fast, if you consider all the sources of added sugars – cereals, bread, sugared beverages and juices, granola bars, fruit flavored yogurt, muffins, low fat dressing and sauces, ice cream, and desserts.”
Does all this new research mean the party’s over and it’s time to cancel BBQs and birthday cakes?
“Unfortunately, it’s hard to have your cake and eat it too,” Dr. Judge says. “If you want to make any changes in your diet based on these, or similar studies, you would do well to decrease sugars and starches from your meals, and seek out healthy sources of lean proteins as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables. I know it may be boring, but the health benefits would be well worth it.”

Kay Judge, M.D., is the Medical Director of Sutter Weight Management Institute, Sutter Medical Foundation.

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