Parents who regularly feed their children cured meats like bacon and hot dogs should be aware that the foods are linked with a heightened risk of leukemia.
The new study – that looked at 515 Taiwanese children and teenagers with and without acute leukemia – also found that vegetables and soy products may help protect against cancer.
Researchers found those who ate cured meats and fish more than once a week had a 74 percent higher risk of leukemia than those who rarely ate these foods.
The findings are published in the online journal BMC Cancer.
The research points to an association between these foods and leukemia risk, but do not prove cause-and-effect.
Long-term human studies are needed to see what role dietary factors have in leukemia development, explained Dr. David C. Christiani of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
Christiani recommends that children not eat high amounts of cured meats and fish.
Foods are preserved and flavored by the addition of salt, sugar and chemicals called nitrites during the curing process. Experts say nitrites are precursors to compounds known as nitrosamines, which are potentially cancer-promoting.
However, vegetables and soy contain antioxidants that may help neutralize those same compounds.
Researchers note that children who regularly ate cured meats and fish and also ate vegetables or soy products had a substantially lower leukemia risk.
Cured meats included foods like bacon, ham and hot dogs, as well as traditional Chinese staples like dried salted duck, salted fish and Chinese-style sausage.
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