I decided to write this post because I find it interesting that most us choose to eat processed meat even though we know it is unhealthy. Somehow we have been programmed to like ham and sausages. Maybe it is the high amounts of salt that makes the ham so irresistible or the spices that make chorizo so delicious. I do not know. What I do know is that eating large amounts of processed meat is bad for our health and the daily safe amounts are much lower than we think.
What is processed meat?
Processed meat is any meat that has gone through a process to extend its shelf life or to change its taste. These processes include: salting, curing, smoking and using chemical preservatives such as sodium nitrite. Meat in ready meals, chorizo, bacon, ham, salami and hot dogs are all referred to as processed meats, but even healthier options such as smoked salmon fall into this category.
Why is it bad for us?
Eating processed meat is harmful to our health because it contains high levels of calories, saturated fat, salt, ‘burnt proteins’, nitrites and other chemical additives. In addition, processed meat is often manufactured from low quality mass-produced meat that comes from animals that have been fed antibiotics and growth hormones. Eating processed meat has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and ultimately an early death in study after study. The most recent one in BMC Medicine indicates that there is a significant positive association between eating processed meat and cardiovascular disease, cancer and other causes of death. In fact, they estimate that 3.3% of deaths could be avoided if people ate less than 20 grams of processed meat per day. Diet high in processed meat has also been linked to other diseases such as dementia and depression.
Most of us know that eating too much processed meat is bad for us, but what is surprising is that the daily limit is much lower than we think. The most recent study in the BCM Medicine recommends eating no more than 20g of processed meat per day. This is equivalent to one thin slice of ham or half a sausage. However the World Cancer Research Fund recommends completely eliminating processed meat from the diet.
So how can you cut down on your processed meat consumption?
1) Reduce the portions – Restaurants often serve processed meat in much higher quantities than we should be eating. So instead of having 3 rashes of bacon included in your breakfast, ask for 1. It is easier not to eat the bacon if it’s not already on your plate. Equally, when you are buying a sandwich ask for 1/2 the amount of ham or turkey they give. Your sandwich will be healthier and you will still get the same taste.
5) Stop buying processed meat and switch to cooking at home – I am a big fan of cooking at home because when you cook at home you know exactly what ingredients you have put into your meal. If you buy a burger that is pre made, it is classed as processed meat, however if you buy minced beef and make the burger at home, it is not. By cooking at home you can eat the same meal without the harmful ingredients that you find in the ready-made meals. One thing to remember with cooking at home is to avoid charring the meat because the burnt proteins are carcinogenic. In addition, avoid eating processed meat in restaurants, schools, hospitals or hotels because you do not know where the processed meat has come from and you cannot be sure of its ingredients.
The last thing to remember is to eat a diet high in antioxidants, especially vitamin C. Studies have shown that eating vitamin C at the same time as processed meat, reduces the nitrosamine formation in your stomach. So make sure that you load your plate with fruit and veg when eating processed meat. Some experts even recommend having a vitamin C supplement ready in your handbag, just in case you find yourself in a restaurant eating processed meat.