Cured meats don't cause cancer after all

Don't eat that! You'll get CANCER!

How many times have you heard that irritating bit of naggery over hot dogs, bacon, ham, and other cured (and delicious) meats?

Next time you hear someone repeat that tired old myth, take your hot dog and shove it right in his mouth -- like a cork, to keep it shut.

I'm half kidding here because I don't advocate wasting hot dogs -- especially since they may be in more demand than ever now that a new study lets them off the hook as far as cancer risk is concerned.

Researchers tracked more than 300,000 volunteers for a decade, using a 124-item food questionnaire to calculate how much nitrate and nitrite they had in their diets.

Those are the demonized preservatives used in hot dogs and cured meats that have been "linked" to pancreatic cancer. But don't believe the hype, because the researchers found absolutely no difference in risk among women. Among men, the difference was so small the researchers chalked it up to chance.

Now, I'll be the first to say a food questionnaire isn't the best way conduct research -- but all the supposed evidence linking nitrates and nitrites to cancer is even weaker than a wet bun.

And if you think that goes against everything you've heard, consider this: Those same nitrates and nitrites the mainstream has accused of causing cancer are actually GOOD for you!

Nitrites can form nitric oxide after you ingest it -- and nitric oxide in your body can save your life during a heart attack.

One study found that mice fed extra nitrates and nitrates had 48 percent less cell death after a heart attack. What's more, 77 percent of these mice survived the attack -- versus just 58 percent of mice on a low-nitrate/nitrite diet.

That's not all.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have been testing sodium nitrite as a treatment for everything from anemia to aneurysms, and the early word is promising -- which means they'll probably be shut down any day now.

I doubt we'll reach a point where disease victims walk around with emergency hot dogs in their pockets -- but it's increasingly clear that the only bad rap on cured meats is the wrap.

Eat the dog -- but skip the bun.