From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published March 23, 2011 04:29 PM

Ready To Eat Meat: Healthy?

What is better to eat, in terms of health, a hot dog (made from what?) or chicken? If given the choice between eating a hot dog or enjoying some rotisserie chicken, consider the hot dog at least according to some research out of Kansas State. That's because hot dogs, as well as pepperoni and deli meats, are relatively free of carcinogenic compounds, according to their research. But it's a not-so-happy ending for bacon and rotisserie chicken -- especially chicken skin -- because both have higher levels of cancerous material.

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J. Scott Smith, professor of food chemistry, and a Kansas State research team have been looking at such ready-to-eat meat products to determine their levels of heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. These are carcinogenic compounds found in meat that is fried, grilled or cooked at high temperatures. Studies have shown that humans who consume large amounts of HCAs in meat products have increased risk of stomach, colon and breast cancers.

Ready-to-eat meat products are meat or poultry products that come in edible forms and don't need additional preparation or cooking. Smith has already researched HCA levels in cooked meat and found that adding certain spices and marinades before cooking can reduce HCA content in the meat.

Their research appears in a recent issue of Meat Science, the journal of the American Meat Science Association.

The study focuses on eight types of ready-to-eat meat products: beef hot dogs, beef-pork-turkey hot dogs, deli roast beef, deli ham, deli turkey, fully cooked bacon, pepperoni and rotisserie chicken.

"These are the most common types of ready-to-eat products, and their use has increased in recent years because of convenience," Smith said. "For this research, we took each of these products and prepared them as a consumer would."

The researchers heated up the hot dogs and bacon in a microwave, cooked the pepperoni on a pizza either in the oven or a microwave and used the chicken and deli meat as obtained. After doing so, they studied the meat to determine whether it contained five different types of HCAs according to nanograms per gram, ng/g.

Pepperoni had the least HCA content, 0.05 ng/g, followed by hot dogs and deli meat, 0.5 ng/g). Such amounts are low, and the researchers concluded that consuming such ready-to-eat meat products contributes very little to HCA intake.

Fully cooked bacon, with 1.1 ng/g, and rotisserie chicken meat, with 1.9 ng/g, contained all five types of HCAs tested. Rotisserie chicken skin had significantly higher HCA levels, with 16.3 ng/g. This is because chicken skin contains more fat and protein and less moisture, and HCA levels tend to increase as moisture decreases, Smith said.

The reasons for lower HCA content in some of the other ready-to-eat products may be because of the higher water content in the ready-to-eat products. More moisture prevents many HCAs from forming. Ready-to-eat products are often enhanced products, meaning they have a water solution with flavoring added to them.

"Hot dogs and deli meat may have low HCA levels because they are manufactured at low temperatures," Smith said. "The low HCA levels may also be from ingredients that are added to the meat and prevent HCAs from forming while the meat is cooking."

Not everyone agrees with the Kansas State findings.  Unlike other sausages which may be sold uncooked, hot dogs are precooked before packaging. Hot dogs can be eaten without additional cooking, although they are usually warmed before serving. Because an unopened, packaged hot dog can have listeriosis bacteria, it is safer to heat them.

An American Institute for Cancer Research report in 2009 found that consuming one 50-gram serving of processed meat — about one hot dog — every day increases risk of colorectal cancer by 20 percent. Hot dogs are high in fat and salt and have preservatives sodium nitrate and nitrite, believed to cause cancer in animals but there is less proof for humans.  

The bottom line from several nutritionists is this: hot dogs aren't exactly a health food, but eating one every now and then probably will not hurt you.

For further information:  http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/mar11/meatscience32211.html

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