A platter of charcuterie, accompanied with a few glasses of wine, is considered by some to be the best way to spend a relaxed Saturday night with delicious food. For others, a pizza without processed meat isn't pizza. But as much as these processed meats please us, they should be limited to prevent cancer.
In particular, chemicals commonly added to cold cuts may increase the risk of cancer, according to a new study.
Researchers from Queen's University Belfast found that animals fed with processed pork containing nitrites developed 75% more tumours than those that ate meat without the chemicals.
It is certainly not the first time that this correlation has been established, as the overall evidence has shown that processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat as a carcinogen.
Nitrites have also been linked to breast and prostate cancer.
Professor Chris Elliott OBE, one of the authors of the study, said the results "make the cancer risk associated with nitrite-cured meat even clearer."
Nitrites are widely used in the preparation of processed meats to extend their shelf life by removing bacteria that can cause diseases such as salmonella, listeriosis and botulism.
Apart from that, however, they impart an enticing spicy flavour and at the same time the characteristic pink hue to cured meat products.
In this recent study, researchers fed mice processed meat containing nitrites, which made up 15% of their diet. Another group of mice, the control group, was fed the same amount of meat, but which did not contain these chemicals.
According to the results, published in the journal Nature, animals fed nitrite-free meat saw no increase in their tumors. In contrast, those who consumed meat with nitrites developed 75% more tumours. Mice in the latter group developed 82% more intestinal tumors than the control group.
However, the researchers stress that a diet consisting of 15% processed meat containing nitrites is considered a high intake.
But they argued that even eating the food in smaller amounts could increase the risk of developing cancer.
“The results of this new study make the cancer risk associated with nitrite-cured meat even clearer. The everyday consumption of nitrite-containing bacon and ham poses a very real risk to public health," concluded Professor Chris Elliott OBE.
Maria Kotopoulis is a columnist for Ygeia Mou.