Should I Eat Processed Meats?

processed meatsHam, chorizo, pepperoni and sausages. They are all processed meats. But why are they so bad for you and what is all the fuss about them at the moment?

In March 2013 there was a study released by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).

This study linked the high consumption of processed meats to some of the early deaths from heart disease and cancer.

There were also results published in February, about its links to bowel cancer more specifically.

But why? What are the ingredients that can link these delicious meats to death, so to speak.

Processed meats generally have high levels of sodium, fat and preservatives like nitrites.

We all know the links of fat, more specifically of saturated fat to heart disease. It has been well published by scientific bodies and health organisations that saturated fat increases the risk of the development of cardiovascular disease.

Processed meats are very high in fat and saturated fat. For example a typical beef sausage has around 15% saturated fat. Yes you could go down the track of reduced fat sausages, but they are often higher in sodium to offset the loss in flavour from the fat.

This brings us to sodium, which is also incredibly high in processed meats. There are a number of reasons that sodium or salt is high in processed meats. One is due to flavour, the other reasons include texture, water activity due to texture but also food safety, preservation and curing.

Sodium is linked to high blood pressure (hypertension) and even cardiovascular disease as well. A sausage can have from 200 to up to 900mg of sodium per sausage which is huge considering theΒ  recommended upper limit in Australia currently sits at 2300mg.

The preservatives used in sausages and processed meats such as nitrites and nitrates are thought to combine with the amino acids during cooking and digestion to form cancer causing nitrosamines.

The argument for the addition of nitrates and nitrites in these processed meats is due to their effective control of Clostridium botulinum which is a microorganism that can cause severe food poisoning or even death. This microorganism thrives in low oxygen environments like sausages, salami and hams.

So what does this mean. Can I eat processed meats as part of a healthy eating plan? What about the ham and cheese sandwich I gave to my child?

Well, you might have noticed a shift even in the Australian Dietary Guidelines recently that they have placed processed meats like ham and bacon into the same category as biscuits and sweets, they are a sometimes’ food.

A sometimes’ food is one which you can have it every now and then.

Your best bet is having red fresh meats and other good protein sources which are high in iron and other vitamins and minerals. Swap out the ham in sandwich for some tuna or chicken. If you like sausage, try meatballs instead.

If you are going to eat ham, bacon, pepperoni or chorizo, do so, enjoy it, but do not have it every day.

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