Processed Meat: Packing Your Children's School Lunches

Dr. Marie Savard suggests healthy, affordable options for your kid's lunches.

ByABC News via GMA logo
August 18, 2009, 12:21 AM

Aug. 18, 2009— -- As the school year approaches and parents begin to think about packing their children's lunches, the World Cancer Research Fund is recommending that parents avoid using processed meats because of possible cancer concerns.

Parents often serve their kids processed meats because they are convenient and cheap, and children enjoy them. Dr. Marie Savard, ABC News medical contributor, said that the concern about these meats stems from possible carcinogens, such as nitrites.

Savard cited several studies that have linked eating large amounts of red meat and processed meats to an increased risk of colorectal, prostate and stomach cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

And those studies, Savard told "Good Morning America" today, were only in adults.

"Why would we risk our children?" she said. "I think we give our kids more processed meats because it's easy."

The American Cancer Society recommends limiting consumption of processed meats. Studies of this issue have found increased risk of colorectal cancer in women who eat more than one ounce, or one slice, of processed meat more than two to three times per week, and men who eat more than one ounce five to six days per week.

Setting aside the American Cancer Society's warning, experts say processed meats can also contain large amounts of saturated fats and salt.

Savard noted that a generic turkey sandwich has nearly the same amount of salt as a hotdog and bun -- nearly the maximum allowance of salt for the entire day.

Too much sodium, Savard said, increases blood volume, forcing your heart to work harder and putting more pressure on your arteries, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney disease or a stroke.

Click here to read the statement from the American Meat Institute Foundation.

Healthy, Affordable Alternatives

Doctors, she said, are seeing more thickening of the arteries in children, particularly those who are obese or have high cholesterol.

Savard recommended going "back to basics" when packing lunches for children. Peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread [for children not allergic to peanuts], she said, is a healthier alternative, which doesn't offer nearly the amount of sodium and potentially cancer-causing chemicals as processed meats.

Parents can also use leftover meat from the night before, such as chicken, fish, pork or beef. It will most likely have less sodium and probably less saturated fat as well.

Tuna and boiled eggs are also healthy protein options.

An ideal lunch for children, she said, will include: