Be aware of how much processed meat you eat

chow_121815-119435047I have been trying to avoid processed meat because I heard it is linked to cancer. But this year, my family is serving ham for Christmas dinner. Ham is processed, right? Should I ask my family to serve something else?  

Yes, ham is a processed meat, and it’s great that you’re aware of the concerns raised about eating too much of it. But most health professionals would say you don’t have to worry about one dinner. It’s your overall pattern of eating that really matters.

Studies have linked processed meat with an increased risk of cancer for years. A report issued in October 2015 raised the issue’s profile significantly. That’s when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said there is “sufficient” evidence to label processed meat as a carcinogen, as well as “limited” evidence linking red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb, with cancer.

The evidence for both types of meat is strongest in relation to colorectal cancers, which are cancers of the colon and rectum, or large intestine.

Processed meat includes meat that has been salted, cured, fermented, smoked or processed in other ways in order to enhance flavor and improve preservation. This includes not only ham, bacon, sausage and hot dogs, but corned beef, beef jerky, canned meat and most lunchmeats, as well — even those made from chicken and turkey.

WHO said eating just 1.75 ounces of processed meat a day could increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. To put that in perspective, the American Cancer Society reports that the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 4.7 percent — slightly higher for men, slightly lower for women. An increase of 18 percent would raise the risk to about 5.5 percent. It’s important to note that other factors, including obesity, inactivity, alcohol consumption and other dietary habits, as well as a genetic predisposition, also increase the risk of colorectal cancer. On the other hand, diets rich in fruits and vegetables are linked with a lower risk for many types of cancer.

Since 2007, the American Institute of Cancer Research, or AICR, has recommended avoiding processed meats, even though it remains unclear precisely what it is about them that raises cancer risk. One possibility is related to the compounds formed from the nitrates and nitrites that are added to processed meats to preserve color and prevent spoilage. These days, you might see lunchmeat and other types of processed meat labeled “nitrate/nitrite-free,” but the AICR is reserving judgment on these products for now. They still are likely to be smoked, salted or cured, all of which also elevate the risk of cancer.

Instead of worrying about the holiday ham, you might consider keeping a log of how much processed meat you eat over the course of a normal week. It might be a lot less than you think. Or it might be more. Being aware is the first step.

The AICR recommends opting for fresh chicken or fish most of the time, or trying different sources of protein such as eggs and tofu. But don’t worry about the occasional slice of ham.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, Ohio State University Extension field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

Have a great holiday! Chow Line is taking two weeks off. The next column is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2016.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Make water festive for holiday gatherings

chow_121115-494561024We are hosting several parties over the holidays. Many of our friends are more health-conscious these days, and I would like to serve some healthy but festive beverages. Any ideas?  

Clean, fresh water is among the healthiest beverages out there. It’s calorie- and sugar-free and, when you get it from the tap, it’s about as inexpensive as you can get. The Harvard School of Public Health has gone so far as to state outright that “water is the best choice” for quenching your thirst and rehydrating your body, which uses water in every one of its biochemical reactions as well as for metabolism, breathing, sweating and removal of waste.

Choosing water or other calorie-free or low-calorie beverages has benefits all year round. Replacing two 20-ounce sugary soft drinks a week with a calorie- and sugar-free option saves nearly 25,000 calories and more than 1,700 teaspoons of added sugar over the course of a year. So, your guests will likely thank you for serving water in some way.

You could also consider providing other healthful options in addition to tap water, such as sugar-free sparkling flavored waters, nonalcoholic beers and sparkling ciders at the wet bar. Another idea: Make a simple nonalcoholic punch from a variety of juices, iced tea and club soda, and keep it cool with an ice ring made of water and pureed fruit.

Or, you can just add some punch (not literally) to water from your kitchen tap to dress it up for a holiday party. Although some of us can think of nothing more refreshing than a glass of crisp cold water — straight up or on the rocks — some people might find it less than festive.

Here are some ideas that will help your water make a splash (again, not literally) during the holidays:

  • Slice cucumbers and add them to the pitcher along with sprigs of slightly crushed fresh peppermint. The result is a cool, refreshing, thirst-quenching drink.
  • Add raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Allow them to be slightly crushed as you stir them in with ice. You may want to have a cocktail strainer on hand to allow guests to choose whether the berries flow into the glass or not. Either way, the water wili have a subtle sweetness.
  • Opt for a citrus or melon theme: Slice lemons, limes and oranges or cut chunks of cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon and let them float in the pitcher.
  • Think ahead and freeze fruits into ice cubes that you add to the pitcher, so the water contains even more fruit as the ice melts.

In addition, put some thought into the container itself. A nice clear glass pitcher is fine as a fallback, but consider other options, too, including a wine carafe or a large beverage dispenser with a spigot.

And finally, no matter what you might add to water for your party guests, keep food safety in mind. Thoroughly rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before adding them to the container. For citrus fruits or vegetables with a rind, like cucumbers, scrub them with a vegetable brush as you rinse.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension field specialist in Youth, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

With kids, emphasize whole fruit over juice

chow_120415-496953208My grandchildren will be spending a few days with us during the holidays. My daughter, their mother, mentioned the other day that she hoped I wouldn’t overload them on soft drinks and juice while they’re here. I can understand soft drinks, but what’s wrong with fruit juice?  

Times have changed. Back in the day, pediatricians and nutrition professionals encouraged parents to serve children 100 percent fruit juice as a healthy source of vitamin C and other nutrients. It wasn’t unusual to see a toddler toddling around with a sippy cup of juice from morning till night.

But there are downsides to drinking so much fruit juice, too. That’s why, for more than a decade, authorities have recommended that juice consumption be limited to just 4-6 ounces a day for children 1 to 6 years old, and 8-12 ounces for older children. For people of all ages, fruit juice should be limited to half of your daily fruit consumption.

What could be wrong with fruit juice? The American Academy of Pediatrics, among other health authorities, offers these insights:

  • Too much juice can lead to the consumption of too many calories. Six ounces of orange juice, for example, contains about the same number of calories as a large orange, but the juice isn’t nearly as filling as the whole fruit. That could lead to eating other, less nutrient-dense foods with even more calories.
  • Drinking juice instead of milk could mean a reduced intake of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc — nutrients children need for healthy growth.
  • Excessive amounts of juice can cause diarrhea.
  • Prolonged exposure to juice has been associated with the development of cavities.

With all that in mind, the pediatricians’ association provided guidance on fruit juice consmuption in 2001. The recommendations include:

  • Fruit juice should not be introduced into the diet of infants before 6 months of age. It offers no nutritional benefits over breast milk or infant formula.
  • Infants should not be given juice from bottles or easily transportable covered cups that allow them to consume juice easily throughout the day. Infants should not be given juice at bedtime.
  • Children should be encouraged to eat whole fruits to meet their recommended daily fruit intake.
  • Infants, children, and adolescents should not consume unpasteurized juice, which may contain pathogens that could cause serious illness.
  • Fruit juice should be provided as part of a meal or snack, not served on its own.

It’s worth noting that these recommendations are related to 100 percent fruit juice, whether or not it’s reconstituted from concentrate. Similar beverages, often labeled as “fruit drink” or “fruit cocktail,” often contain added sugars and provide as little as 10 percent real juice. Look at the labels.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, Ohio State University Extension state specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.