The Five Most Unhealthful 'Gourmet Burgers': Factors

The Physicians Committee

The Five Most Unhealthful 'Gourmet Burgers': Factors

A Report from PCRM's Cancer Project
Winter 2009

Findings | Key Factors | Rating System/Detailed Results

Key Factors

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

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. A 50-gram serving is approximately the size of a typical hot dog—or a little less than the four slices of bacon found on the Wendy’s Bacon Deluxe burger.

High-Fat Dairy: Dairy products are typically loaded with fat and cholesterol, and researchers are discovering that dairy products appear to play an important role in cancer risk. Dairy products have been shown to influence premenopausal breast cancer as well as prostate cancer. When humans drink cow’s milk, it causes biological changes, including a rise in the amount of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the bloodstream. IGF-1 is a powerful stimulus for cancer cell growth. In addition, milk appears to interfere with the body’s activation of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium from the digestive tract and protects against prostate cancer.

High Fat Content: Diets high in fat, especially saturated 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.

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 limited to 2,400 milligrams per day—the equivalent of about one teaspoon of salt—and some health experts suggest consuming even less.

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the bloodstream and in the body's cells. Every animal cell contains some of it. 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. Including large amounts of cholesterol in one’s diet may eventually lead to reduced heart function.

Low Fiber Content: High-fiber, low-fat diets help reduce the amount of estrogen circulating in the blood. Fiber is also important in preventing colon cancer, as it helps move food waste, extra hormones, and carcinogens out of the body. Fiber may even help the immune system function properly. Building a diet from fiber-rich plant foods is important for cancer prevention and survival, as well as overall health. On average, Americans consume only about half the recommended 35 grams to 40 grams of fiber per day.