Processed meat refers to meat products that have been altered in some way through curing, smoking, salting, or the addition of preservatives They have been popular for centuries as a way to preserve meat for long periods, but there are concerns about the health effects of consuming too much meat.
What exactly is processed meat?
Meat that has been processed and which has been preserved by curing, salting, smoking, drying, or canning.
The following foods are classified as meat that has been processed:
- Sausages, hot dogs, and salami are all options.
- Cured bacon and ham.
- Corned beef, salted and cured meat.
- Meat that has been smoked.
- Beef jerky, dried meat.
- Meat in a can.
So is it safe?
They’re high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease. (Photo via Pexels/Magda Ehlers)
They’re high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.
They also contain nitrates and nitrites, which are used as preservatives but have been linked with cancer. Additionally, the high heat used during the smoking and curing process can create cancer-causing compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Despite these concerns, it’s still possible to safely consume processed meat in moderation. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies such meats as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means they have been proven to cause cancer in humans. However, that does not mean that consuming small amounts will automatically lead to cancer. The risk of developing cancer from meat consumption is relatively low and is mostly seen in people who consume large amounts of it regularly.
The American Cancer Society recommends that people limit their consumption of such meats and eat mostly fish, poultry, and lean meats. They also suggest that people choose processed meats that are lower in sodium and nitrite, and avoid or limit consumption of charred or well-done meats.
The American Heart Association also recommends that people limit their intake of it and consume lean meat instead. They suggest that people aim for no more than six ounces of cooked lean meat per day, and avoid consuming meat that has been processed more than a few times per week.
Tips for avoiding processed meat
The American Heart Association also recommends that people limit their intake of it and consume lean meat instead (Photo via Pexels/Harry Dona)
- If you consume products, you can reduce or eliminate them from your diet.
- Examine the label. Look for words like nitrate, nitrite, cured, or salted in the ingredient list.
- If you see these words, ‘it’s processed meat’, you should avoid.
- Be an informed buyer. Even meats labeled ‘uncured’ can contain nitrates and nitrites.
- Nitrate-free meats should be avoided. These meats may have lower levels of nitrates and nitrites. However, they’re not nitrate-free.
- When you consume these nitrate-free foods, the stomach converts some nitrates to nitrites. Several of these nitrites can then be converted into cancer-causing materials in the body.
- Reduce portion sizes, and eat less frequently. Choose a plant-based diet over all else.
Consuming processed meat can be harmful to health, especially if you consume large amounts of it regularly. However, it’s possible to safely consume processed meats in moderation.
To reduce risk of cancer and heart disease, it’s best to limit your intake and choose lean meat instead. It’s also important to choose processed meats that are lower in sodium and nitrite and avoid or limit consumption of charred or well-done meats.