ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: More on this story now. We're turning to Dr. Steven Clinton. He's a professor of medical oncology at the Ohio State University. Welcome to the program.
STEVEN CLINTON: Thank you. It's a privilege to be here.
SIEGEL: Let's say a family of four came to the doctor and said their kids often take a bologna sandwich to school. They often have bacon and eggs for breakfast and love a good steak. What should the doctor say - it's time to change your diet?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, you'd have to question, do doctors really provide good guidance on food and nutrition. And they probably need a registered dietitian. But I think there are guidelines, whether they're dietary guidelines for America or those that come out of other agencies, that do impact our decisions. And if a family is choosing diets that are very rich in meat products and processed meats, they may think about how to better orchestrate their overall dietary pattern.
SIEGEL: How do you understand the meaning of the word processed in this context? And is there something which, if you took it out of the salami, might make it healthier than when it's in the salami?
CLINTON: It's been known for a long time that diets that were rich in salted and pickled foods were associated with certain types of cancer like esophagus and maybe gastric. And as we've studied this more and more in different populations all around the world, there's now enough data that this association seems to be strong enough for the recommendation that's being made today.
Now, we also understand that salting, curing, fermenting, smoking are all different types of processing, and we cannot really dissect out yet, with the studies that are done, is one really more of a culprit, one less. But I would just say that we're in a point in history now where our food scientists could tackle this problem and, I think, come up with ways that would reduce any type of carcinogenic burden that is in processed meat. So I think this is really a task for the future, for the industry.
SIEGEL: It's not for nothing that people cure and process meats. It makes meat stay edible that much longer. There is something on the other side here on the question of processing.
CLINTON: Absolutely. There is no question that we want to consume meat that's palatable, tastes good and is safe. And that means eliminating microbial contamination and foodborne illnesses. And I think all of the preservation of meat has had its origin with those very positive goals.
SIEGEL: Does this strike you as potentially the surgeon general's warning, I mean, the thing that creates a critical mass of evidence and a warning so loud that it might lead us to rethink our diets?
CLINTON: So I think this report strengthens the causal association that there is a link and that it is more convincing. But the important thing about this that we need to keep in mind is that the quantitative hazard from the consumption of processed meat is not even in the same ballpark as cigarette smoking and many types of cancer.
SIEGEL: Dr. Clinton, thanks for talking with us today.
CLINTON: It's my privilege. Thank you.
SIEGEL: Dr. Steven Clinton of the Ohio State University. He's also a member of the Dietary Guidelines for America Advisory Committee.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.