Week of January 22, 2007

Nutrition Wise
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Does chicken consumption affect cancer risk?


A: Unlike red meat, chicken and other types of poultry don’t overall seem linked to cancer risk. (Red meat is higher than poultry in a form of iron called heme iron and may lead to more N-nitroso compounds in the colon. Both of these compounds may pose colon cancer risk.) However, poultry that is grilled or fried at high temperatures forms carcinogenic heterocylic amines (HCAs), just as red meat does. For this reason, it’s a good idea to cook poultry at lower temperatures and perhaps marinate it first. Some research suggests that marinades may decrease HCA formation. Although studies have not linked poultry consumption with increased cancer risk, limiting portions to about three ounces of cooked poultry (four ounces boneless when raw) allows you to leave room for vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. These foods offer a wide range of vitamins and phytochemicals that actively reduce cancer risk. The American Institute for Cancer Research urges us to follow the New American Plate, which means no more than a third of our plate includes meat, poultry or fish, and at least two-thirds provides health-promoting plant foods.

Q: Is it true that the marinade for a fish dish called ceviche “cooks” the fish, so it doesn’t pose the same risks as sushi?

A: Ceviche (sometimes spelled seviche) originated in South America. Raw fish or shellfish is marinated in lime, bitter orange or lemon juice, and mixed with other ingredients such as tomatoes, onions and herbs. As it flavors the fish, the acid in the citrus marinade alters the protein and causes the fish to become opaque and firm, much like when it is cooked. However, it is not the same as cooking with heat. The marinade will kill some bacteria, but not all, and it won’t protect against parasites. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to eliminate parasites in fish that will be eaten raw, it should first be deep-frozen, at temperatures not reached by home freezers. If you make ceviche at home, start with frozen fish and make sure to marinate the fish in the refrigerator. Another option: some variations on ceviche start with cooked fish. When eating out, only order ceviche (or other raw fish dishes such as sushi) where you are confident the restaurant has taken proper food safety steps. The FDA advises that young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should not eat any raw fish dishes. People with weakened immune systems include those on chemotherapy or long-term steroid medication and those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes or liver disease.

Q: My mother leaves hot leftovers sitting on the counter to cool before storing them in the refrigerator. Is this safe?

A: Once food is cooked, it should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours, including serving, eating and cooling time. Small amounts of bacteria that may be in or on meat and other perishable foods reproduce rapidly at room temperature. Your mother should allow food to cool only briefly before refrigerating it. If she wants to speed cooling, she can cut the food into smaller portions or divide it into several shallow containers.

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The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) offers a Nutrition Hotline online at or via phone 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, Monday-Friday, at 1-800-843-8114.  This free service allows you to ask questions about diet, nutrition and cancer.  A registered dietitian will respond to your email or call, usually within 3 business days. AICR is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on how the risk of cancer is reduced by healthy food and nutrition, physical activity and weight management. The Institute’s education programs help millions of Americans lower their cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. Over $77 million in funding has been provided. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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