Meal bonus

Low-fat foods like the holiday turkey may do more than smell great all day and bring the family together. By supplanting fattier main-dish foods, they may lower the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Until now, scientists have had a very short list of possible risk factors for this cancer,which has more than doubled in prevalence since the 1970s. Occupational exposure to pesticides was about all they could pinpoint. But a new study suggests a potentially controllable risk: a high intake of fat from animal sources.

In a study of 104 women with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and 35,052 women without it, scientists saw that those eating the most red meat (especially hamburger) had nearly twice the risk of this disease than did women who ate the least. Those who ate the most animal fat had 1 1/2 times the risk of women who ate the least (American Journal of Epidemiology Supplement, June 1, 1995). Of course, it's possible that compounds in the red meat and the fat in that meat work together to raise the risk of this cancer.

Heterocyclic amines are formed when meat is cooked, especially when it's fried, broiled or grilled. Heterocyclic amines may be somehow responsible for the DNA damage that holds the door open to cancer, suggests study author Brian C.H. Chiu, in the epidemiology division at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City.

Diets high in fat or red meat are being associated with different kinds of cancers, such as breast and colon cancers. "So it may be smart to lower the consumption of meat or fat from animal sources," he says. Which means that feeding your guests low-fat fare may be one of the best gifts you give them this season.

ILLUSTRATION

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By Marty Mun-son with Teresa Yeykal

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