How the Meat Industry Reacted to the New Cancer Warnings

What was the meat industry’s response to leading cancer charities’ recommendation to stop eating processed meat, like bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meat? As I discuss in my video Meat Industry Reaction to New Cancer Guidelines, the industry acknowledges that the most recent international cancer prevention guidelines now urge people to avoid processed meat.

“It is evident that…such a statement represents ‘a clear and present danger’ for the meat industry,” reads one response in the journal Meat Science. However, processed meat, it continues, is “a social necessity.” (How could anyone live without bologna?) The challenge for the meat industry, the response outlines, is to find a way to maintain the consumption of these convenience products while somehow not damaging public health.

We’re still not sure what in processed meat is so carcinogenic, but the most probable educated guess for explaining the damaging effect of processed meats involves heme iron, along with nitrosamine and free radical formation, ultimately resulting in carcinogenic DNA damage. To reduce the nitrosamines, they could remove the nitrites, something the industry has been considering for decades because of the long-known toxic effects they cause. The industry adds them to keep the meat pink. There are, evidently, other coloring additives available. Nevertheless, it’s going to be hard to get industry to change “in view of the positive effects” of these substances as preservatives and in achieving a “desirable flavour and red colour developing ingredients.” No one wants green eggs and ham.

It’s like salt reduction in meat products. The meat industry would like to reduce it, but “[o]ne of the biggest barriers to salt replacement is cost as salt is one of the cheapest food ingredients available.” A number of taste enhancers can be injected into the meat to help compensate for the salt reduction, but some leave a bitter after-taste. To address that, industry can also inject a patented bitter-blocking chemical that can prevent taste nerve stimulation at the same time. This “bitter blocker is only the first of what will become a stream of products that are produced due to the convergence of food technology and biotechnology.”

The meat industry could always try adding non-meat materials to the meat, such as fiber or resistant starch from beans that have protective effects against cancer. After all, in the United States, dietary fiber is under-consumed by most adults, “indicating that fiber fortification in meat products could have health benefits.” But, of course, the meat industry’s own products are one of the reasons the American diet is so deficient in fiber in the first place.

The industry is all in favor of reformulating their products to cause less cancer, but “[o]bviously any optimization has to achieve a healthier product without affecting quality, particularly hedonic aspects.”

“It is important to realise that nutritional and technological quality [in the meat industry] are inversely correlated. Currently, improvement in one will lead to deterioration of the other.” Indeed, the meat industry knows that consumption of lard is not the best thing in the world—what with heart disease being our number-one killer—but those downsides “are in sharp contrast to their technological qualities that make them indispensable in the manufacture of meat products.” Otherwise, you just don’t get the same “lard consistency.” The pig’s fat doesn’t get hard enough, and, as a result, “a fatty smear upon cutting or slicing can be observed on the cutting surface of the knife.” Less heart disease versus absence of that fatty smear? I suppose you have to weigh the pros and cons…


According to the World Health Organization’s IARC, processed meat is now a Group 1 carcinogen—the highest designation. How is it that schools still feed it to our children?

How Much Cancer Does Lunch Meat Cause? Watch the video to find out.

For more on carcinogens, cancer, and meat, see:

Some of the meat industry’s finagling reminds me of tobacco industry tactics. See, for example, Big Food Using the Tobacco Industry Playbook and The Healthy Food Movement: Strength in Unity. You can also check out American Medical Association Complicity with Big Tobacco.

Skeptical about the danger of excessive sodium intake? Check out The Evidence That Salt Raises Blood Pressure. If you’re still not convinced, see Sprinkling Doubt: Taking Sodium Skeptics with a Pinch of Salt and Sodium Skeptics Try to Shake Up the Salt Debate. Why do the meat industries add salt when millions of lives are at stake? Find out in Big Salt: Getting to the Meat of the Matter.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Is Triclosan Antibacterial Toothpaste Safe?

Why do dogs lick their wounds? They even lick our wounds. This leads to a question posed in the medical literature nearly a half century ago: Might there be some healing property of dog saliva? Well, it appears that there are a number of immune defense mechanisms in saliva, one of which involves nitric oxide. Licking of human skin results in production of nitric oxide from salivary nitrite, which kills skin pathogens and comes from the nitrates we eat in our diet.

How do we know we can get nitric oxide from licked human skin? Researchers had a bunch of volunteers lick their hands all over, front and back. Today, we have a better way to clean wounds: soap and water. (And we should never let our pets lick open wounds because cases of serious infections have been reported).

The reason I bring it up is that this transformation of nitrates from our diet into nitrites in our mouth has important implications for our health. Insufficient nitric oxide production is recognized as the earliest event in the onset and progression of a number of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, and a number of inflammatory conditions.

Nitrates come from vegetables in our diets, such as beets and green leafy vegetables. Good bacteria on our tongue convert nitrates into nitrites which can circulate throughout the body to create nitric oxide, and any nitrates our tongue bacteria missed the first time around get pumped by our body back into our saliva to give our tongue bacteria a second chance. One way we can become nitric-oxide-production-deficient is by not eating enough vegetables in the first place. So, eating vegetables should be the first step. But, if our tongue bacteria die off, the cycle is broken no matter how many vegetables we eat.

That’s why we should not use antiseptic mouthwash. Previously, I profiled an important study in my video Don’t Use Antiseptic Mouthwash. The most protective food for our heart may be green leafy vegetables because, like beets, they have lots of nitrates. So, if you drink some beet juice, you can get a remarkable drop in blood pressure within just hours, but only if you swallow.

The nitric oxide pathway can be interrupted if you use an antibacterial mouthwash or by spitting and not swallowing beet juice because of the critical action of our tongue bacteria on the nitrates in our saliva. So, we have to eat our vegetables and keep our tongue bacteria happy––so, no antibacterial mouthwash. But what about antibacterial toothpaste?

There’s a toothpaste on the market that contains an antibacterial chemical called triclosan. In my video Antibacterial Toothpaste: Harmful, Helpful, or Harmless?, I present a study was done that showed there was no difference in the levels of nitric oxide, nitrite, and nitrate after brushing with regular toothpaste and triclosan toothpaste. Our good tongue bacteria live in the cracks on the surface of our tongue, so if you just brush your teeth and not your tongue, the chemical doesn’t seem to get down there. Does that mean triclosan toothpaste is safe?

The use of triclosan toothpaste may not be associated with any increase in serious adverse cardiac events. And though studies on rats suggest the chemical can affect thyroid function, the use of triclosan toothpaste does not seem to affect human thyroid function. A study funded by Colgate concluded that triclosan was both safe and effective, producing “a significant reduction in gingivitis, plaque, and bleeding.” However, an independent review by the Cochrane Group suggested the reduction may be statistically significant but may not be beneficial enough to yield clinical significance.

Regarding safety, states are starting to ban the stuff because of data showing that despite the lack of efficacy, triclosan is so ubiquitous that most of the U.S. population is exposed to it. “Because the rapid rise in obesity in the U.S. parallels the introduction of triclosan, and because triclosan has two potential mechanisms by which it might alter human weight”—that is, by mucking with our gut flora or our hormones––researchers at Stanford decided to assess the association between triclosan levels flowing through people’s bodies and how heavy they are. And, indeed, they found an association between triclosan levels and increase in body mass index, and suggested further studies on how this chemical could be altering human growth and well-being.


If we shouldn’t use antiseptic mouthwash, What’s the Best Mouthwash? (Spoiler alert: It’s green tea!)

I’ve created an extensive video library on the benefits of nitrate-containing vegetables for both athletic performance and cardiovascular benefits. Here are some of the latest:

For more on nontoxic ways to maintain oral health, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Best Foods for COPD and Peripheral Artery Disease

It’s great we can improve athletic performance by eating a few beets, but so what if you run 5% faster? It can be a fun experiment to eat a can of beets and maybe shave a minute off your 5k time, but there are people who could really benefit from a more efficient use of oxygen: those suffering from emphysema. Young, healthy adults eating greens and beets can swim, run, and cycle faster and farther, but what about those who get out of breath just walking up the stairs? Do nitrate-rich vegetables work where it counts? Yes–. Time on the treadmill in COPD pateints was significantly extended after two shots of beet juice. I discuss these benefits of nitrate-rich vegetables in my video Oxygenating Blood with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables.

Beet juice can also decrease blood pressure in young, healthy adults, but what about in those who need it––older, overweight subjects? Just one shot a day of beet juice (versus berry juice as a control) led to a significant drop in blood pressure in a few weeks. But within just a few days after stopping three weeks of beeting themselves up, blood pressure went back up. So we have to eat our vegetables and keep eating our vegetables.

Why did it take until 2015 to publish a study on using nitrates to lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure? You’d think that’d be the first group to try it on. Who’s going to fund it, though—Big Beet? Blood pressure medications rake in more than $10 billion a year. You can’t make billions on beets.

But that’s why we have charities like the British Heart Foundation, which funded a study to give folks with high blood pressure a cup of beet juice a day for four weeks. After all, high blood pressure may be the number-one risk factor for premature death in the world. In ten years, it could affect nearly one in three adults on the planet. But put them on beet juice and blood pressures dropped and kept dropping until they stopped drinking it after a month. With so many people with high blood pressure even despite treatment, the researchers concluded, “an additional strategy, based on the intake of nitrate-rich vegetables, may prove to be both cost-effective, affordable, and favorable for a public health approach to hypertension.”

What about those with peripheral artery disease? There are tens of millions of people with atherosclerotic clogs impairing blood flow to their legs. This can cause a cramping pain in the calves called claudication, due to lack of blood flow through the blocked arteries, severely limiting one’s ability to even just walk around. But when they simply drink some beet juice, they can walk 18% longer. Researchers measured the actual oxygenation of blood within the calf muscle and found that patients were able to maintain more oxygen in their muscles after drinking beet juice.

The nitric oxide from vegetable nitrates not only improves oxygen efficiency but also oxygen delivery by vasodilating blood vessels—opening up arteries—so there’s more blood flow. I’m surprised beet juice companies aren’t trying to position themselves as veggie Viagra! It could certainly explain why those eating more veggies have such improved sexual function, though that study was a snapshot in time so technically you can’t tell whether eating veggies resulted in improved sexual function or improved sexual function led to eating more veggies. However, it seems more reasonable that low fruit and vegetable consumption contributes to erectile dysfunction, rather than the other way around.

What about the most important organ… the brain? Poor cerebral perfusion—lack of blood flow and oxygen in the brain––is associated with cognitive decline and dementia. Researchers showed that the nitrate in vegetables may be beneficial in treating age-related cognitive decline. They showed a direct effect of dietary nitrate on cerebral blood flow within the frontal lobes, the areas particularly compromised by aging. This is a critical brain area for so-called executive function, the basic task and problem solving important for day-to-day functioning. The nitrite from nitrate has been shown to not only increase blood flow to certain areas of the body but also to act preferentially in low oxygen conditions, allowing it to increase blood flow precisely in the areas where it is needed most, and that’s what they found in the brain: increased blood flow to the at-risk areas of the aging brain. The only side effect of beeting your brains out? A little extra color in your life (they noted some of the study subjects started peeing pink).


Nitrates are one of the reasons I recommend eating dark green leafy vegetables every day. See Slowing Our Metabolism with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables and “Veg-Table” Dietary Nitrate Scoring Method. Beets are another good option and not just drinking the juice; take a look at Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance.

What else can we do for high blood pressure? See the following videos:

Why is blood flow to the brain so important? I go into depth on the potential consequences in Alzheimer’s and Atherosclerosis of the Brain.

More on diet and pelvic blood flow in men can be found in:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: