The Five Most Unhealthful Foods at Mexican Restaurants: Key Factors

The Physicians Committee

The Five Most Unhealthful Foods at Mexican Restaurants: Key Factors

A Report from PCRM's Cancer Project
Spring 2010

Findings | Key Factors | Rating System/Detailed Results | Healthful Options/References

Key Factors

The Cancer Project dietitians looked at several key factors to determine the healthfulness of each item:

Processed Meat: Consuming processed meats—including deli meats, hot dogs, and bacon—is a key risk factor for colorectal cancer, according to a comprehensive report released in 2007 by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund. After reviewing 58 published studies on nutrition and cancer risk, AICR scientists concluded that processed meats increase one’s risk of colorectal cancer by an average of 21 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily. 50 grams of processed meat is equivalent to one hot dog.

High Caloric Intake: Obesity leads to increased risk of several chronic diseases. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are all greatly influenced by excess weight gain. Men and women have higher levels of hormones (i.e., testosterone and estrogen) when their weight increases, making them more prone to disease. Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce our risk of certain cancers and other life threatening diseases.

High Fat Content: Diets high in fat have been linked by scientific research to increased risk of cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. High-fat, low-fiber foods boost the hormones that promote cancer. Specifically, diets high in meat, dairy products, fried foods, and vegetable oils cause an increase in the production of estrogen. Extra estrogen increases cancer risk in the breast and other organs sensitive to sex hormones. Trans fats raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Naturally occurring trans fats are only contained in animal products. Fat contains 9 calories per gram and is typically more abundant in animal products, especially saturated fat, which significantly increases bad cholesterol.

Sodium: Diets high in sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, a condition that can lead to cardiovascular disease and kidney problems. Sodium intake should be less than 2,300 milligrams per day—the equivalent of about one teaspoon of salt—and some health experts suggest consuming less than 1,500 milligrams per day.

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the bloodstream and in the body's cells. Every animal cell contains cholesterol as it is a necessary component of the cell’s membrane. The body naturally makes more than enough cholesterol to serve this biological function. High blood-cholesterol levels are strongly linked to risk of heart disease. High levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats and trans fats both increase LDL levels. Consuming large amounts of cholesterol in one’s diet may eventually lead to reduced heart function. Fiber helps to remove blood cholesterol and is only found in plant foods.