Beware of Processed Meats

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

— by Cate Stevenson, BA

Many people succumb to the smell and taste of processed meats, like sausages, hot dogs, and sandwich meats. While it probably won’t affect you much to have some bacon for breakfast once a week, or a hotdog from your local hotdog stand on a Saturday afternoon, eating these types of processed meats every day could be bad for your heart.

In a recent study conducted in the U.S., researchers did a systematic review of nearly 1,600 studies from around the world, looking for evidence of a link between eating processed and unprocessed red meat and the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

For the study, meat was considered processed if it was preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives. The top contenders in this category included bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs or processed deli and luncheon meats. Unprocessed red meat included beef, lamb and pork.

The research team found on average that each 1.8-oz (50-gram) daily serving of processed meat a day (the equivalent of one to two slices of deli meats or one hot dog) was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and 19% higher risk of developing diabetes.

The good news? The researchers found no higher heart or diabetes risk in people who ate only unprocessed red meats. They account for this discrepancy in results by noting that the average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats eaten in the United States contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. However, processed meats contained, on average, four times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives!

The researchers recommend that, to lower the risk of heart attacks and diabetes, people should consider which types of meats they are eating. People who eat one serving per week or less of processed meats have a lower risk. To be on the safe side, reach for unprocessed meat at the butcher. Lean beef, pork and lamb will give you some added nutrients when eaten in moderation. Lean red meat contains the all-important B12 vitamin, as well as iron, zinc and protein.