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When In Doubt, Go Greek

Recent reports from the World Health Organization have stated that processed meats have cancer-causing agents (carcinogens). Although it is inconceivable to the public, research does show that processed meat (e.g., hot dogs, bacon, sausage, deli meats, etc.), and red meat (e.g., beef, pork, lamb) are probable causes of cancer. This news should not come as a surprise because the American Cancer Society has recommended limiting consumption of red and processed meat since 2002. Nutritional guidelines have always encouraged choosing poultry, fish and beans and eating moderately. But for the paranoid and the anxious, what are the best foods to eat without worrying about consuming carcinogens? The answer’s simple: Go Greek.

A Mediterranean diet may be the key to living a long and healthy life. It’s heavy on veggies, fruits, nuts, and limits the consumption of dairy and meat. Greeks on average consume six or more servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. With that kind of lifestyle, a Mediterranean-based diet can immensely lower the risk for cancer and cardiovascular diseases and benefit ones overall well-being. Grains in the Mediterranean region consist of whole grains, and bread is an important component of their diet. Unlike Americans, Greeks dip bread into olive oil rather than dipping bread into butter or margarine, which contains saturated or trans fats. Olive oil is a mainly monounsaturated fat that can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. “Virgin” olive oils, which are the least processed, also contain the highest levels of protective plant compounds that are rich in antioxidants. Fish is another component of a Mediterranean diet. Fatty fish such as mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids can lower triglycerides, decrease blood clotting, and are associated with decreased incidences of sudden heart attacks, improve the health of blood vessels, and help regulate blood pressure. Nuts also contain the healthy fats, but moderation is key because of the high fat content. However, honey-roasted, candied, and heavily salted nuts will do more harm than good on the body.

Wine, the last component of a Mediterranean diet, has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease in some research studies. It is very important to note that drinking alcohol more than the moderate amount will increase the risk of certain types of cancers. Eating healthy is very important, but without moderation its health benefits will be extremely minimal. Limit the red meat to no more than a few times a month. Substitute lean meat and fish in for the red meat. And most importantly, stay far away from sausages, bacon, and other high-fat, processed meats.