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Why Processed Meat is Unhealthy? What is Processed Meat?

Why Processed Meat is Unhealthy? What is Processed Meat?

These days we hear more and more often can hear that processed meat is bad for you, but many people don’t know Why Processed Meat is Unhealthy? Today I would like to answer this question and explain what kind of meats are considered as processed meats and explain why processed meat is unhealthy?


What is processed meat?

All meat that has been salted, smoked, cured, dried or canned can be considered as processed meat. Meat that has been frozen or mechanically sliced or cut is still considered as unprocessed.What is processed meat


Processed meat products are:

  • Cured or smoked bacon and ham.
  • Dried meat, jerky.
  • Smoked meat.
  • Sausages, salami.
  • Salted, cured and canned meat.


Why processed meat is unhealthy?

Processed meat contains harmful carcinogens that may increase the risk of chronic disease. One of the main carcinogens is sodium nitrate which is added to processed meats to kill botulism and other foodborne illnesses. This carcinogen increases the risk of cancer for those who consume it regularly.


Other carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, sodium chloride can be found in processed meat as well and can increase the risk of these diseases:


Heart disease. Heart disease is characterized by a narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Fatty deposits, or plaques, cling to the artery walls and can clog the arteries, making it more likely for a blood clot to form. And this can be caused by saturated fats and preservatives which can be found in processed meat products.Breast Cancer


Breast Cancer. One of the recent research says that eating processed meat regularly increase women’s risk of breast cancer. Researches found out that women who ate up to 4 grams of processed meat a day had an increased their risk of developing breast cancer by 15, and by 21 percent for women who ate more than 9 grams a day. You can read more about “Processed meats may increase breast cancer risk” research


Bowel and stomach cancer. The results showed that those who ate processed meat had around a 17 percent higher risk of developing bowel and stomach cancer, compared to those who didn’t eat any.


High blood pressure. Processed meats products have a lot of salt and salt increases the risk of high blood pressure.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The research found that consumption of processed meats (i.e. bacon, gammon, ham, corned beef and sausage) was associated with worse lung function, in both males and females and increased risk of COPD.


Diabetes. Most of the processed meats have a lot of saturated fats, eating too much processed meat can make you overweight. One of the top risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes is being overweight. When you carry too much fat tissue, especially around your midsection, your body’s cells can become resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that moves sugar out of your blood and into your cells.


Stroke. Ischemic stroke. Processed meat can increase risk of stroke-causing a blockage in the blood vessels that supply the brain.


Obesity. Obesity does not just happen overnight, it develops gradually from poor diet and lifestyle choices. For example, unhealthy food choices could be: eating processed meat high in fat, salt and carcinogens.


Alzheimer’s disease. Processed meats such as bacon, smoked ham and sausages. Smoked meats like these contain nitrosamines, which cause the liver to produce fats that are toxic to the brain.


Shorter lifespan. The latest research says that eating processed meats could shorten your life because it contains carcinogens which are harmful to you.


Recommended safe amount of processed meat

A new report by The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that processed meat is as carcinogenic to humans as Recommended safe amount of processed meatalcohol, cigarettes and asbestos. The report says that eating 50g of processed meat a day, the equivalent of one sausage increases the chance of developing bowel cancer by 18 percent.


NHS recommendations in the UK are to cut down your daily processed meat intake at least to 70 grams per day for adults. Daily allowed amount of processed meat it’s up to you, but I do not recommend eating more than 70 grams per day. However less processed meat you consume the better and if you could give up on processed meat that would be even better.


Is unprocessed meat healthy?

Many types of research say that unprocessed red meat can increase the same risks of health issues as processed meat. Some red meats are high in saturated fat, which raises blood cholesterol. High levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) increase the risk of heart disease. So answer to this question is simple, red meat high in saturated fats can increase chances of heart diseases, so it is better to choose lean red meat.


But the answer to the question if unprocessed red meat increases the risk of cancer is not that easy. Some studies say that red meat does increase the risk of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. But there is no real evidence or proof that red meat does that. More likely that high-temperature cooking, grilling and using substances like oils, can form carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds in the meat, but not the meat itself.


However, there was no evidence at all that white meat can increase the chance of cancer or heart diseases. White meat is leaner and contains less saturated fats, especially if you consume your white meat without skin. But white meat contains fewer vitamins (iron, vitamins B and zinc) than red meat.


Red meat examples are:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Goat
  • Venison
  • Veal


These meats aren’t classed as red meat:Is unprocessed meat healthy

  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Goose
  • Duck
  • Rabbit


Key points

  • Processed meat products are cured or smoked bacon and ham, dried meat, jerky, smoked meat, sausages, salami, salted, cured and canned meat.
  • Processed meat contains harmful carcinogens that may increase risk of chronical disease like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, obesity.
  • The recommended amount of processed meat is no more than 70 grams per day.
  • Most red meat is high in saturated fat and can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • White meat is very low in saturated fat and there is no evidence that it can increase chances of cancer or heart disease.
  • Meats classed as red meat are: lamb, beef, venison, pork, goat, veal.
  • Meats classed as white meat are: chicken, turkey, goose, duck, and rabbit.


Final thoughts

I hope my article answered your question of why processed meat is unhealthy and you will be more aware before choosing your meat. If it is possible I recommend you eat as less processed meat as possible.


Try to change processed meat to unprocessed white meat or red lean meat. People eat too much meat these days anyway so my suggestion would be and try to eat more fish, vegetables, beans and try to keep variety in our diet. Don’t forget that meat is not the only protein source and there are a lot more healthy protein sources in the world.


As always, if you ever need a hand or have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to help you out.

All the best,

Marius Mickevicius


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2 thoughts on “Why Processed Meat is Unhealthy? What is Processed Meat?”

  • Thank you kindly for this article. I most certainly have to have a real good look at my diet and put a limit on the processed meats that I eat. I had no idea that cured and smoked ham were considered as processed. Thanks for that..

    • Your very welcome Derek, I’m happy that my article did help you and you find out something new. Yes cured and smoked ham considered as processed meat as well and you have to do your best to reduce consumption of processed meats.

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