Pinoy breakfasts can give you cancer

Salt-cured meats and the increased risk of head and neck cancer

What comes to mind when we say Pinoy breakfast aside from pandesal and coffee?

Typical Pinoy breakfast staples include tapsilog, longsilog, tocilog, hotdog, and luncheon meat. What do these foods have in common? They are all salt-cured meats to preserve shelf life and to add that richness in flavor served with white or garlic rice and egg.

There is no question as to the richness of flavor and the amount of energy these dishes provide so early in the morning. Eating, however, shouldn’t be just about flavor. Health is a major factor that needs to be considered. While having cured meats or processed meat may be safe occasionally especially if your intake of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes are greater in quantity and variety to counteract the pro-inflammatory effects of cured meats, having them on a daily basis and as a staple in your diet isn’t healthy. Worse, it can make you sick.


Processed meats like tocino, hotdog, bacon, and canned meats like luncheon meat and the like have already been proven by science to increase risk of stomach and colon cancer. Furthermore, these foods have high levels of sodium from salt and other additives, high cholesterol, and unhealthy fats.

Sugar is also added. All of these factors affect your blood glucose level and lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) thus increasing your risk of diabetes, heart diseases, kidney, and liver problems to name a few.

Unfortunately, the list of diseases goes on. Head and neck cancer may not be as common as other types of cancers but it is a problem that affects many lives globally.

And if we can prevent it by simply making healthier food choices then why shouldn’t we?

Head and neck cancer affects the cells that line the mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), salivary glands, sinuses, muscles, or nerves in the head and neck. It does not include cancers of the brain, eye, esophagus, and thyroid gland, as well as the skin on the neck and head.

By the year 2030, the global incidence of head and neck cancer is predicted to increase approximately by 30 percent annually. To make matters worse, the increase in prevalence has been recorded to occur in the AsiaPacific region and Southeast Asia where the Philippines is located. The disease is indeed closer to home.

The risk factors for head and neck cancer or squamous cell carcinoma include tobacco smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages, infections caused by human papillomavirus or HPV and Epstein-Barr virus or EBV.

A major risk factor that is present in our traditional Filipino breakfasts would be salt-cured meats or salt-preserved foods. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 29 case-control studies was conducted by Haiyan Feng and colleagues on the consumption of processed food and risk of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. On April 28, 2022, their study concluded that there is a significant result for the association of processed foods with nasopharyngeal cancer risk. Nasopharyngeal cancer belongs to the head and neck cancer classification.

The study also mentioned that “Pro-cancer factors in processed meat, including excess fat, excess protein, excess iron, and heat-induced mutagens, may also be involved in carcinogenesis, plus the salt and nitrite added during the curing process.”

Carcinogenesis is the process of cancer development in the body. Is your breakfast staple composed of processed meats? You might want to begin preparing for healthier options that are easy to make. Some of my recommended breakfast meals are: Oats soaked in nut milk or soymilk. You can add a teaspoon or two of pure cocoa powder, nuts, and some fruit slices. If you prefer to eat rice in the morning, you won’t be judged. After all, we are Filipinos and rice is our staple. Why don’t you cook an oil-free fried rice? Sautee chopped vegetables and some leftover fish or chicken and add some cooked rice. If you choose to add some oil, a teaspoon or less will do but I prefer to sautee onions and garlic with water. You can also have a fruit and vegetable smoothie. At least you get to consume your nutrient-rich fresh produce at the start of the day especially if you dine out for lunch and dinner. Fruits and vegetables may not be as readily available during those times. Be creative, practice quick cooking sans processed foods at home. [email protected]