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Deli meat and bacon: Charisse’s challenge

Focused on Health - July 2013

by Adelina Espat

Take this challenge in the Healthy Bites series. Charisse Ferrer did it. And, so can you!

Do you love bacon and cold cuts? So does 26-year-old Charisse Ferrer.

charisse-processed-meatsBut, she’s learned to rein in these food temptations after discovering the cancer-causing dangers in these meats.

“Research shows that eating processed meats, like bacon and cold cuts, can raise your risk for colorectal cancer,” says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach. “That’s because cancer-causing substances form when meats are preserved. And, eating these substances can damage your DNA.”

Avoid smoked, cured or salted meats

Deli meats and bacon aren’t the only processed meats – any meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing or salting is processed. And, meats with added chemical preservatives are also processed.

Some processed foods include:

  • Sausage
  • Hot dogs
  • Pepperoni
  • Beef jerky
  • Roast beef

READ ALSO: Your guide to eating less processed meat

“I always knew that canned meats, hot dogs and sausages were processed meats,” Charisse says. “But I never realized that freshly sliced meats from the deli counter also were considered processed.”

Charisse, who recently got accepted into grad school, blames her hectic schedule for her frequent trips to the deli counter.

“I’ve got a full-time job, school and a social life,” Charisse says. “My schedule varies from day to day. So, I usually opt for food that’s quick and easy.”

Charisse takes the challenge

herndon-processed-meats“Before the Healthy Bites challenge, Charisse was eating some form of processed meat four to five times a week,” Mary Ellen says. “That’s just too much, and I knew we could find ways to help her cut back.”

“Even though deli sandwiches seemed like the easiest food option, I wasn’t concerned about giving them up,” Charisse says. “My real challenge would be giving up bacon – I love bacon.”

What worked for Charisse

“Sticking with this challenge wasn’t always easy,” Charisse says. “But, it definitely opened my eyes to other healthy foods that I didn’t try before or even think about trying.”

meats-sushiCharisse offers this advice:

  • Keep a food log: “Keeping a food log was a great way to track how many servings of processed meat I ate every week. And because I was writing everything down, I became more mindful about what I ate overall.”
  • Create portable options: “I started carrying hummus, pretzels and veggies that I packaged the night before so I’d have an on-the-go snack. That way I was much less likely to buy a deli sandwich for a quick bite.”
  • Buy healthier options: “When I didn’t have time to pack a snack, I visited the sushi counter instead of the deli counter. The summer rolls were an easy, portable meal.”
  • Choose your cheat day: “It was hard going to family Sunday brunches and not eating bacon. So when I knew I had brunch plans, I didn’t eat processed meat all week – brunch would be my one splurge.”

READ ALSO: Nutrition tips: how to avoid nitrate in meat

“Once you make it a habit, making healthier food choices gets easier,” Charisse says.

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