Do you love bacon and cold cuts? So does 26-year-old Charisse Ferrer.
But, she’s learned to rein in these food temptations after learning about the cancer-causing compounds in these meats.
“Research shows that eating processed meats, like bacon and cold cuts, can raise your risk for colorectal cancer,” says Mary Ellen Phipps, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson. “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. Meats with added chemical preservatives are also processed.
Processed meats include:
- Hot dogs
- Beef jerky
- Roast beef
“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 graduate 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
“Before, 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.”
Charisse 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.”
“Once you make it a habit, making healthier food choices gets easier,” Charisse says.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.